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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 09:11 GMT
Opik defends his backing of Oaten
Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten, (foreground) watched by fellow MP Lembit Opik, announces he is withdrawing from the leadership race
Opik said he thought Oaten's philosophy was 'right for party'
The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Lembit Opik has defended his decision to back disgraced colleague Mark Oaten for the party's leadership.

The Montgomeryshire MP was campaign manager for Mr Oaten, who quit as the Lib Dem's home affairs spokesman after a sex scandal exposed by a newspaper.

Mr Opik said Mr Oaten had ended his campaign "before any of this came out".

He added it would be "unreasonable" for people to suggest that he "should have predicted the news at the weekend".

Mr Opik, 40, acknowledged that the News of World's revelations that Mr Oaten had a relationship with a male prostitute had "come as a shock to everybody".

Previously Mr Opik had said Mr Oaten was "the right man for the job" of succeeding Charles Kennedy, following his resignation.

I have absolutely total conviction that I was right to stick up for Charles Kennedy
Lembit Opik

Mr Oaten had pulled out of the leadership race last week, saying he felt he did not have the backing of enough of his parliamentary colleagues, and resigned his party post after the weekend's newspaper revelations.

Mr Opik told BBC Wales: "Mark Oaten, I'm pretty sure, did stand down for the reason he said, which was that he felt he had insufficient parliamentary support.

"That was last Thursday and of course we heard about this at the weekend which, to be honest, would probably have terminated his campaign anyway.

'Brave statement'

"Let's recognise that he terminated his campaign before any of this came out. And I was supporting him because I thought his social liberal philosophy was a valid one for the party."

Mr Opik had earlier mounted a vigorous campaign to keep Charles Kennedy as party leader, before Mr Kennedy revealed that he was suffering from a drink problem and bowed to pressure from his parliamentary party to quit.

Mr Opik said he thought Mr Kennedy had made "a very brave statement by admitting had the medical condition also known as alcoholism".

Mark Oaten
Mark Oaten quit home affairs role after newspaper revelations

He added: "I have absolutely total conviction that I was right to stick up for Charles Kennedy.

"I may have been taking a different view in terms of the MPs with regard to Charles Kennedy but many of the [party] members did agree with me."

Mr Opik, who has said he would like to run for party president in the short term and perhaps party leader in the longer term, agreed with the idea that Mr Oaten could still have a role in the party.

He said: "I think that, to quote another politician, just because you've got a past, doesn't mean you shouldn't have a future.

"Very importantly the debate, and the positive debate this opens up, not just for the Lib Dems but for I think the public at large is, can we have a different outlook on people who are effective professionally but have interesting and perhaps flawed personal lives?"

He said the 20th Century had shown there were some states people with "interesting personal lives".

He said: "I hope there is still some sort of distinction between the two."


SEE ALSO:
Anti-Kennedy briefings 'cowardly'
14 Dec 05 |  UK Politics
Oaten quits Lib Dem leader race
19 Jan 06 |  UK Politics


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