Former Liberal Democrat election agent Jonny Oates has a unique record in being a winning general election agent in different constituencies. But there is even more to his life, both in his contributions to the party subsequently – he is now a Lib Dem peer – and also in his much varied life prior to the Liberal Democrats. As with Paddy Ashdown, the Lib Dems play a surprisingly small part in his life for someone who has been so important in the party.
So even those who know him well from the Liberal Democrats will most likely find much that is new to them in his memoirs, just written. As the blurb for I Never Promised You A Rose Garden says:
Aged fifteen and armed with a credit card stolen from his father, Jonny Oates ran away from home and boarded a plane to Addis Ababa. His plan? To single-handedly save the Ethiopian people from the devastating 1985 famine. Discovering on arrival that the demand for the assistance of unskilled fifteen-year-old English boys was limited, he learned the hard lesson that you can’t change the world just by pure force of will.
A rare political memoir from a figure whose life before politics is every bit as gripping as their time in the corridors of power, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden charts Oates’s darkest moments as an idealistic but troubled schoolboy alone in Ethiopia, struggling with his sexuality and mental health; it traces his journey onwards – to Zimbabwe, where, aged eighteen, he becomes deputy headteacher of a rural secondary school; to South Africa in the final year of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, where he works in the first post-apartheid parliament as the country seeks to shape a future from its bitterly divided past; and, ultimately, to the roller-coaster ride of Britain’s first post-war coalition government, where, as Nick Clegg’s chief of staff, he plays a key role in the struggle for his own country’s future and learns important lessons about the difference between power and duty.
Or as the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says of the book:
Oates takes you on an extraordinary journey from teenage rebellion, through the fight for African rights, to the top ranks of the British government. It’s all the more extraordinary because the story is true – his is a life lesson that serendipity and courage can change things for good.