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On the Shelves: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Jonny Oates (PR 1982-87), British Liberal Democrat politician and member of the House of Lords, has published his autobiography, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.


“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.

Shot through with a captivating warmth and humour, this heart-stoppingly candid memoir reflects on the challenges of balancing idealism and pragmatism, reminding us that lasting change comes from working together rather than standing alone.”


You can order the book here.


“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.” Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden charts the unusual emotional and political journey of Jonny Oates. By turns tender, moving and funny, it is an unflinchingly candid story of teenage rebellion, of love and – above all – of heartfelt compassion. If anyone doubts that there is still a place in politics for exceptional, decent people, this is a book for you.” Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister 2012–15

“Unusually for a political figure, Jonny Oates has written about love: how it tormented him and how it healed him. Few in political life are as candid about the underpinning of what drives them. A gripping tale of escape and rescue, this is the story of the making of a liberal soul.” Gary Gibbon, political editor, Channel 4 News