Mark Oaten

Mark Oaten (born 8 March 1964) is a British politician who was a senior member of the Liberal Democrats. He served as the Member of Parliament for Winchester from 1997-2010.

Mark Oaten
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman
In office
12 June 2003  21 January 2006
LeaderCharles Kennedy
Preceded bySimon Hughes
Succeeded byAlistair Carmichael
Chair of the Liberal Democrats
In office
7 June 2001  12 June 2003
LeaderCharles Kennedy
Preceded byMalcolm Bruce
Succeeded byMatthew Taylor
Member of Parliament
for Winchester
In office
2 May 1997  12 April 2010
Preceded byGerry Malone
Succeeded bySteve Brine
Personal details
Born (1964-03-08) 8 March 1964
Watford, Hertfordshire, England
Political partySocial Democratic Party (Before 1988)
Liberal Democrats (1988–2018, 2019-Present)
Alma materUniversity of Hertfordshire

Born in Watford, Hertfordshire, Oaten became a councillor in local government, joining the centre-left Social Democratic Party, which merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988. He became the party's Home Affairs spokesman in 2003. He stood for the position of Leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2006, but withdrew from the contest[1] he was later hit by a series of scandals which also led to his resignation as Home Affairs spokesman.[2] He did not seek re-election to the House of Commons at the 2010 general election.

Following his retirement from active politics, Oaten published two books, before becoming executive of the International Fur Trade Federation in 2011.

Early life

Oaten was educated at Queens' School, Bushey and the University of Hertfordshire.[3][4]

Before entering Parliament, Oaten had been a councillor and was employed as a lobbyist by various Westminster public affairs companies. He was leader of the SDP group on Watford Borough Council. He stood for the Watford seat at the 1992 general election and polled 10,231 votes, finishing in third place.[5]

Member of Parliament

Oaten won the Winchester seat in the 1997 election with a majority of two, but his election was later declared void by the Election Court. The defeated Conservative former MP Gerry Malone successfully challenged the election on the basis of an established precedent which voided the result where it had been affected by a decision not to count ballot papers which had not been properly stamped.[5]

This decision caused the 1997 Winchester by-election at which Malone stood again. However, many felt that Malone had behaved as a 'poor loser' and Oaten won with a majority of 21,556, gaining 68% of the vote. He held the seat in the 2001 election, with a majority of 9,634 (with a 54.6% share of the vote), and again in 2005, although his majority dropped to 7,473 (a 50.6% share of the vote).

Liberal Democrat leadership contest 2006

On 10 January 2006, Oaten declared that he would be a candidate in the leadership election to replace Charles Kennedy, standing on an agenda of making liberalism relevant to the twenty-first century. He was widely rumoured to be Kennedy's favoured successor but his campaign failed to gain momentum. On 18 January, he became embroiled in a row about the leaking of an email.[6]

On 19 January, Oaten withdrew from the contest, having failed to attract support from within the parliamentary party; his sole supporters were Lembit Öpik MP and Sarah Ludford, Baroness Ludford, a peer and MEP. He concluded his withdrawal statement with the words "Next week I'll be giving some thought to where I go politically and giving my thoughts on the future of the Party."

Scandal and resignation

On 21 January 2006, Oaten resigned from the Liberal Democrat front bench[7] when it was revealed by the News of the World that he had hired a 23-year-old male prostitute between the summer of 2004 and February 2005. The newspaper also alleged that Oaten had engaged in 'three-in-a-bed' sex sessions with two male prostitutes.[8] Further allegations surfaced in the media over the following days, including an accusation that he had asked one of the prostitutes to engage in an act of coprophilia.[9][10][11]

Oaten gave an explanation for his actions in an essay in The Sunday Times[12] in which he claimed a "mid-life crisis" was partly responsible for his actions. This was partially contradicted by a 2009 Press Gazette interview Oaten gave, in which he said "Journalists ... had my story for three years I think, but hung on to it and never did anything with it. They could have made that public interest argument at any point in the three years. I had always been a Member of Parliament, but they waited until it could sell most newspapers, at the point at which I became well-known and at my most famous."[13]

Oaten announced that he would be standing down from Parliament at the 2010 general election.[14] The members of his Winchester constituency party selected Martin Tod to replace Oaten as the Liberal Democrat candidate,[15] but Tod was defeated at the general election by the Conservative candidate Steve Brine.


After his retirement from frontline politics, Oaten released two books, one on the history of coalition governments,[16] and the other a memoir entitled Screwing Up: How One MP Survived Politics, Scandal and Turning 40.[17] In 2018, he resigned from the Liberal Democrats after being a member for thirty years[18] but announced that he had rejoined them in September 2019 to "help defeat the new extremes growing in politics"[19].

Political leaning

Oaten was a member of the Advisory Board of the Liberal Future think tank until it was wound up in 2005, and one of the contributors to The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism in 2004—although he attracted anger from the book's co-authors at its launch event at the Lib Dem Conference in spring 2004 when he refused to answer questions about his own chapter, stating that it had actually been written by his research assistant, and that he had not even read it.[20] Within the party, Oaten had been called a moderniser in the sense that he was keen to emphasise economic liberalism and to prevent the Liberal Democrats being sidelined as a 'party of the left'. As the party's principal home affairs spokesman, he championed the rights of asylum seekers and civil liberties, condemned calls by then Conservative frontbencher David Davis for the reintroduction of capital punishment and has claimed to want to reunite all the strands of liberalism, and not elevate one above the others.

Tower Block of Commons

In February 2010 Channel 4 broadcast a four-part series called Tower Block of Commons in which four MPs lived with on different council estates in England. Taking part alongside Oaten were Tim Loughton, Austin Mitchell and Nadine Dorries.[21] On arrival on the council estate, he attempted to blend in by exchanging his business suit for a tracksuit, but on the first day he found himself being goaded by youths about having hired a rent boy.[22]

International Fur Trade Federation

In 2011 Oaten accepted a position as executive of the International Fur Trade Federation. Oaten was criticised for accepting the position by animal welfare groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) and Winchester Animal Concern.[23] Whilst an MP, Oaten was critical of any plans to introduce legislation to outlaw fox hunting, and supported a 'middle way' approach to the issue, that would allow hunting to remain legal. In 2004 Oaten voted against the ban on fox hunting.[24]

Personal life

In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live with Emma Barnett in 2019 Oaten came out as gay and revealed he was in a relationship.[25][26]

Notes and references

  1. Carlin, Brendan (20 January 2006). "Oaten blames dirty tricks as he quits Lib Dem race". Telegraph. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  2. Gaby Hinsliff, political editor. "Leading Lib Dem quits over sex scandal | Politics". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2018.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. Liberal Democrats: Who's Who.
  4. "Profile: Mark Oaten". BBC News. 21 January 2006. Retrieved 11 July 2009.
  5. "Ask Aristotle: Mark Oaten." The Guardian.
  6. Tania Branigan, 2006. "Oaten to pull out of Lib Dem leadership race." The Guardian.
  7. Mark Oaten: On the scandal that ruined him, The Independent, 15 September 2009
  8. Marc Shoffman, 2006. "Lib Dem MP resigns over "gay" relationship" Pink News.
  9. Britain's Liberals Elect 14th Century Chinese Vase as Leader!, The Huffington Post, 2 March 2006
  10. The nut and the hammer, The Daily Telegraph, 14 May 2006
  11. Top 50 Political Scandals: Part One Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, The Spectator, 8 July 2009
  12. "Out of control". The Times. London. 7 May 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  13. "Mark Oaten: 'Titillation is not in the public interest' - Press Gazette". Archived from the original on 10 July 2009.
  14. "MP says he will go before an election". The Portsmouth News. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  15. "Lib Dems pick man to replace Oaten". Hampshire Chronicle. Newsquest Media Group. 4 December 2006. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  16. Oaten, Mark (6 September 2007). "A Lib/Con pact? You shouldn't rule it out". London: The Times. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
  17. "Screwing Up - How one MP Survived Politics, Scandal and Turning Forty". Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
  18. Mark Oaten (18 October 2018). "mark oaten on Twitter: "Joined party in 1982. Tough call to leave but don't feel any of the current parties are worth voting for "". Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  19. Mark Oaten (3 September 2019). "mark oaten on Twitter: "Have re joined my old party the Lib Dem's. It's time to get stuck in again and help defeat the new extremes growing in politics"". Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  20. "Simon Titley, Review of Mark Oaten's memoir "Screwing Up", Liberator Magazine, November 2009, p.14-15" (PDF). Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  21. "Tower Block of Commons". Channel 4. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  22. "Four MPs swap their lavish expenses for real life in a tower block". The Sun. 26 January 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  23. "MP who cheated on wife with rent boy in new controversy after becoming fur trade chief". Daily Mail. London. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  24. "Disgraced MP Mark Oaten takes job promoting fur trade". Daily Telegraph. London. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  25. Walker, Peter (14 January 2019). "Ex-Lib Dem Mark Oaten says he is now 'comfortable with being gay'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  26. "BBC Radio 5 live - In Short, Sex scandal MP Mark Oaten: 'I'm gay now'". BBC. 13 January 2019. Retrieved 9 June 2019.


  • Coalition: The Politics and Personalities of Coalition Government from 1850, Harriman House Publishing, 2007
  • Screwing Up: How One MP Survived Politics, Scandal and Turning 40, Biteback Publishing Ltd, 2009
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Gerry Malone
Member of Parliament for Winchester
Succeeded by
Steve Brine
Party political offices
Preceded by
Malcolm Bruce
Chairman of the Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Matthew Taylor
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