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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK
Profile: Mark Oaten
Mark Oaten
Mr Oaten says he wants to change careers

News that Mark Oaten is to stand down at the next general election will have surprised few in Westminster.

The Winchester MP's fall from grace had been rapid and - even by recent standards - spectacular.

Just over six months ago he was being talked up as a leading contender to replace Charles Kennedy as Liberal Democrat leader.

The 42-year-old MP had portrayed himself as a traditional family man with a wife and two daughters, inviting cameras into the family home when he announced he would stand for the party leadership.

But that image was shattered forever by revelations in The News of the World that he visited rent boys over a six-month period in 2004 and 2005.

Mr Oaten and his wife, Belinda, fled their home as the media set up camp on their doorstep. She went skiing in Austria with the children and he stayed with friends.

Hair loss

But the former PR man has rarely been out of the headlines since the story broke - often talking, with his wife, about efforts to save their marriage.

MARK OATEN
Mark Oaten and wife Belinda
Age: 42
Educated: Queen's Comprehensive school, Watford; Hatfield Polytechnic
Family: Married, two daughters
Before politics: Lobbyist

In an interview with Hello magazine, Mrs Oaten told of her "horror" on learning of her husband's betrayal and how she threw her wedding ring at him.

The couple were now trying to rebuild their lives, they told the magazine.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Oaten said his mid-life crisis was brought on by rapid hair loss.

There were even signs he was attempting to rehabilitate his political career, with frequent television appearances, including University Challenge: The Professionals, and BBC One's Question Time, where he received a warm reaction from the audience.

But he had always stressed his distaste for the Westminster way of life and his announcement that he intends to stand down confirms that view - he is, however, thought to be thinking about a career in television.

Election victory

Born and brought up in Watford, Hertfordshire, where he attended a local comprehensive school, Mark Oaten always had political ambitions.

As a member of the SDP, he became one of the country's youngest councillors in 1986 aged just 22.

His election to the Commons in May 1997 marked a surprise gain for the party by the narrowest of margins - he was judged to have won by just two votes.

However, the defeated Conservative Gerry Malone refused to accept defeat and successfully petitioned to have the result overturned on grounds of irregularities.

The election was re-run in November 1997 and resulted in Oaten's majority increasing to over 20,000 votes. He held the seat in 2001 with a substantial majority. And last May, he held the seat with a majority of 7,476.

In 2001, he was given a brief as chair of the parliamentary party and cabinet office spokesman. He was promoted to the job of Lib Dem shadow home secretary in 2003.

Leadership crisis

In this role, Mr Oaten became one of the most prominent of a new breed of Lib Dem MPs who favour "tough liberalism", mixing the party's concern for civil liberties with recognition of the rights of crime victims.

He fought hard to oppose ID cards and the 90-day detention of terror suspects - and was thought by most commentators to be doing a good job in a difficult role.

He began to be talked about as future leadership material - and began to demonstrate ambitions in that direction.

As Charles Kennedy's leadership crisis deepened late last year, Mr Oaten sent an e-mail to party activists outlining his achievements in this role, which was seen as "pressing the green button" on his own bid for the top.

But within minutes of Mr Kennedy's first statement on his drinking - calling for his MPs to put up or shut up, Mr Oaten ruled himself out of running against Mr Kennedy, who is a close friend.

Energetic

He had been planning to run Mr Kennedy's campaign for re-election - and was at his side when Mr Kennedy decided to stand down.

Mr Oaten was known as diligent and energetic constituency MP.

And his previous roles in the party include spokesman for disabilities, a member of the foreign affairs and defence team, and chairman of the All Party Groups on Far Eastern Prisoners of War and Adoption.

He was one of the leading campaigners on compensation for former prisoners-of-war and is also interested in children's issues.

He successfully introduced a bill in the Commons tightening the laws on overseas adoptions.

Although he had dropped out of the race for the party leadership citing lack of support, he still had a frontline political career ahead of him when the revelations about his private life first came to light.




SEE ALSO
Lib Dem Oaten to stand down as MP
25 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Oaten tells of 'mid-life crisis'
07 May 06 |  UK Politics
Oaten wife tells of her 'horror'
26 Apr 06 |  UK Politics
Oaten apologises over sex scandal
02 Feb 06 |  UK Politics



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