Oaten's support dwindles to one MP

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Mark Oaten's leadership campaign descended into farce after it emerged that he enjoyed the public backing of only one MP.

Of the seven MPs who formally nominated him for the leadership, only his campaign manager, Lembit Opik, remained publicly backing him yesterday.

Of the remaining six MPs, three declared their support for rivals, two said they were undecided and one refused to comment.

Yesterday, the MPs said they signed Mr Oaten's papers to ensure there was a full leadership contest.

Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, said: "I wanted to make sure the members had a wide choice."

Paul Rowen, MP for Rochdale, added: "Mark has a lot of contribute to the debate but I took some soundings in the constituency over the weekend and I feel Simon Hughes has the most to contribute."

The revelation came as it emerged Mr Oaten's campaign had called the police over the leaking of e-mails to The Independent that suggested Charles Kennedy had been secretly campaigning for Mr Oaten.