The Campus Soapbox

Nouse invites campus political groups to vent on an issue of their choice. This edition, the Lib Dems reflect on the campaign for party leadership

The Liberal Democrats have had more press coverage in the past three weeks than they have had since the General Election, so the only sensible thing to do seems to be to add a tiny bit more.

Most recently, Mark Oaten resigned from his position as Home Affairs spokesman, admitting to a six-month affair with a rent boy. I think I stand with a lot of Liberal Democrats and liberals generally when I say that unless this affair compromised his ability to do his job, his private life (which can be as ‘bizarre’ as he wants it to be as long as it stays legal, despite what the tabloids say) is his own. He didn’t lie to the public, and accusations of hypocrisy are ludicrous – we want to liberalise prostitution and, on top of this, are absolutely committed to gay rights and diversity. Oaten wouldn’t have made a good leader for the party, so I’m glad he’s stepped down from the leadership race, but that’s a different matter – one concerned with his performance as an MP and a party spokesman, on which it is vital he is judged.

With the leadership campaigns, much of the national media are having their usual caricature festival, pulling and poking the issues so they fit through easy-to-report holes, even if that means ignoring the truth. In most reports, the three candidates are simply the “left-wing one”, the “old one” and the “no-one”. When reporting gets slightly more in-depth the usual talk is of huge ideological splits, sometimes even along a Liberal/SDP fault line as a hangover from the 1980s.

This is almost entirely nonsense. All three are gut liberals and approach issues from a liberal perspective – even if a left-wing or right-wing perspective would be easier to stereotype. They are equally committed to supporting human rights and civil liberties and thus fighting the authoritarian Labour government over ID cards, ‘extraordinary rendition’ and detention without trial. They are all committed to constitutional reform, including a fairer voting system. All are committed to fighting climate change in a more effective manner than the current government or the Tories. All are committed to liberal policies on drugs and crime. Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes, say, are much closer to each other philosophically and policy-wise than to any other party.

I’m still undecided, and am choosing between the candidates based on how well I think they’ll lead the party (remembering that it is the Party Conference that sets policy) and how they will come across to the public. All three are committed to the same brand of liberalism as I am and any great left/right splits between them exist in the media rather than reality, if you look into what they’ve each written and proposed. I can see any of the three making a good leader and fully hope that the two runners-up stay as important members of the Shadow Cabinet – which is bad for a rant, but good for the Liberal Democrats.

Contact the Liberal Democrats on campus: [email protected]

By Adam Hewitt (member of the Liberal Democrats)


  1. 2 Feb ’06 at 3:08 pm

    John Talgarth

    What a joke party!!!!!

    And THEY run York Council!

    It’s about time we had a change.


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