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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 09:28 GMT
Lib Dem leadership
On Sunday 18 December 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Mark Oaten MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Mark Oaten MP
Mark Oaten MP

ANDREW MARR: Now this morning the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is written off by paper after paper. We're told that at an icy meeting of his shadow cabinet, when he asked for support, there was initially silence.

One former MP says he has a drink problem - now Charles Kennedy is a street-fighter but should he now call it a day?

One of those tipped to replace - if he does - is Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman who joins me now from Southampton. Mark, welcome, good morning.

MARK OATEN: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: What does Charles Kennedy have to do to survive?

MARK OATEN: Well I think he has to carry on doing what he has done - which is to lead this party incredibly successfully. After all, he's just gone through a general election result where we've had the largest number of Members of Parliament. On the big issue of the last parliament, on Iraq, he was the only leader that took the right call on that, to oppose Iraq.

So what I'm looking for Charles in 2006 is more of the same, leading us very strongly - particularly taking on both Conservative and Labour on the education proposals, on ID cards. I'm very confident that Charles can carry on and I hope right through to the next general election.

ANDREW MARR: And so you would disagree with Menzies Campbell, who says that he has to raise his game - you don't think that's necessary?

MARK OATEN: No, I'm very comfortable with the way Charles has led this party. It's extremely successful. We are still on 20, 21 per cent of the opinion polls, and I am very confident in 2006 we can carry on and grow this party even more.

ANDREW MARR: And so there are no circumstances in which you could see yourself standing for party leadership in the year ahead?

MARK OATEN: Absolutely not. I've made it very, very clear that Charles has my full support and I hope and I'm sure that Simon, Menzies, all the others in our shadow cabinet are going to rally round and I'm very looking forward to January, particularly to get into some of the big issues, for example on ID cards, terrorism, education, where we'll be taking on this government.

ANDREW MARR: And I must ask you this very directly - there's another former MP who says that he's seen firsthand, serious evidence that Charles Kennedy does have a drinking problem. Have you ever seen any such evidence yourself?

MARK OATEN: No what I've seen - and remember I've been very close to Charles, I was his PPS - is somebody who at close quarters works extremely hard, diligently, gets on with the job in hand and when it comes to the difficult calls in politics, such as Iraq and the Butler Inquiry, has made the right calls. He has excellent judgement and I believe the public also are very fond of Charles and his style of politics.

ANDREW MARR: So you've never seen any such problem. No, no drinking problem at all.

MARK OATEN: No I'm very confident that Charles is absolutely up for the job and having worked very closely with him I believe that what he now wants to do is to put this week behind him - as I'm sure all colleagues do - and we come out now fighting, after a good break at Christmas - because we're all tired and worn out - but come back in the New Year and get on with the job in hand.

ANDREW MARR: You say he wants to put the week behind him - what went wrong this week?

MARK OATEN: Well let's be honest about it - the Liberal Democrats always complain we don't get enough coverage - we've had an awful lot of coverage this week and it's not been marvellous coverage.

It has been, I think, one of those things where the press have picked up on some of the stories flying around; there's been a Tory leadership campaign; we've seen Blair in trouble with Brown and it was inevitable that the Lib-Dems would get that kind of attention at some point. That's now happened and we can draw a line on this and move forward.

ANDREW MARR: Mark Oaten, thank you very much indeed.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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