Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Lemby" answers his critics...............

There has been a deal of criticism of Mr Opik, over the last few weeks, so what does he have to say about it~ I took the opportunity this weekend to give him an opportunity to answer the questions that seem to be causing unnecessary angst......particularly in certain quarters!

There appears to be a bit of a panic amongst the great and the good in the party about you becoming President, why do you think that is?

Yes, I agree. There appear to be individuals who have actively been trying to dissuade people from voting for me. I’ve asked some of them why this is but it’s not easy to get a particularly coherent answer. The best interpretation I can make is that they’re afraid of how I’d do the Presidency because of my “non-political” activities. This looks like it’s based on my public profile and my relationships. One senior member said he was afraid I would be “distracted” by my personal life! People who think like this don’t seem to value my ability to reach out beyond the usual boundaries of political life. Non-political citizens know who I am, and they engage in dialogue with me because they see me as a person first and a politician second. Or do they mean I’d personally be distracted from my work? I wonder if they apply the same “distraction” concern to people in political life who are, for example, having babies, which must be extremely distracting? I think the criticism hasn’t been fully thought through, but I don’t want to be too critical here. It’s a natural human response to be cautious of the unusual. I’m unusual in that I’m recognised as an MP and as a character. Ironically, I often think my own political narrative – socially libertarian and economically left wing - is actually clearer many of those who are wary of me. But the main reasons aren’t philosophical. They’re psychological and, on reflection, I hope they’ll get more used to my style even if they don’t fully understand it.

In terms of Presidency, I’m not the banker option – but perhaps an inspirational one? My results in my own constituency and in helping the Party develop through training and sheer hard effort would tend suggest that my operating approach does work well.

So what would you say to allay their fears?

I’d suggest those who are concerned about me need to lighten up a bit and celebrate a colleague who can really engage with the GENERAL public. When Ming Campbell was Leader, I invited him to come out with me to public events to see how I operate and what I actually do. I make the same offer again to everyone: come out with me for an hour and you’ll see at first hand how I engage, what people think of my public image - and the resulting contact this leads to. Aside from this, I’ve also been successfully contributing to the Federal Party structure for over 17 years. Ask others on the committees I’ve served on and you’ll realise I’ve been working effectively in this environment for longer than most of us have even been in full time politics. The fact I haven’t spent the last decade blowing my own trumpet about all this is surely a positive thing.

Some activists have been complaining about your media profile, in particular the media's obsession with your private life, do you think they are right to be upset, if not why not?

It’s not for me to decide people’s right to be upset. I am after all a Liberal! However, in terms of complaints about my media profile, I’d ask them to explain what exactly is the issue here? Where’s the data – even circumstantially – that any of this has done harm? The only evidence I’ve seen suggests I’ve helped rather than hindered the party’s progress. Why else in 2005, when I already had a “celebrity” profile, did I get the largest majority in my constituency since 1962? Was it a fluke? I don’t think so. I think it was a combination of high recognition, popularity and effective political action. And why did the Party have a lift in the polls when I figured heavily in the media for non-political things over Christmas a couple of years ago? It may not be due to me, but there’s no data to suggest I’ve harmed Party fortunes in any way. However, if there’s objective data to prove otherwise, I’d like to see it. So far it’s been unsupported assumptions and maybe even some prejudice. I think it is a great shame if we enslave ourselves by this kind of thinking, as conformity is the greatest enemy of liberalism and directly contradicts the preamble to our constitution which is on the back of every membership card.

Other activists accuse you of being "policy lite" what would you say to them?

Activists who accuse me of being “policy lite” miss the point of the Presidency. This job is NOT – and MUST NOT BE – about policy making. A President who does that is competing with the Leader’s role, and this mustn’t be allowed to happen. So the question is not salient to the role I’m standing for. However, because I like to answer questions directly, there’s plenty of policy if you want to look at it. What about the 10 years contribution I made to the Northern Ireland peace process, especially in terms of supporting integrated education, cross community dialogue and the devolution settlement. Or my 6 year campaign to get a full independent inquiry into the deaths at Deepcut Army Barracks? Or my successful campaign with former Conservative MP Andrew Rowe to set up the UK Youth Parliament? Or my efforts as Business Spokesperson to revisit our policies on energy policy? Or my work on Housing which led directly to our policy of allowing local authorities to borrow billions to buy up vacant properties? Or my positive involvement in the devolution project for Wales? I suspect those who say I’m policy light haven’t really had a proper look at what I’ve actually achieved, in real terms, in the political sphere. It’s all there, and I recommend a quick look at my contributions in Parliament. Nobody who looks at all that can seriously harbour the claim that I’ve not been one of the more active and successful Lib Dem MPs when it comes to policy development. Let me stress again however that my Presidency will be characterised by running the Party, not directing policy which is simply not the President’s job.

Do you think you may have made some mistakes in terms of your decisions to be on particular TV programmes?

Not really. If we as a Party are scared of the popular media, we’re done for. I’ve never seen any evidence that any of my appearances has compromised the Party. As I’ve said before, if anyone can show me any evidence of it, then I’d invite them to do so. So far, nobody has. I’m glad to see Nick Clegg reaching out to alternatives media outlets as well. I’m certain this is doing him a lot of good and I hope other colleagues follow his lead. Vince Cable’s participation in Strictly Come Dancing indicates I appear to have started a fashion which will finally add some colour to our image. Oh, and I’m not appearing on Celebrity Big Brother! The story seems to be borne out of a bit of mischief. I observe that there was quite a lot discussion about my impending appearance even AFTER I’d clarified that I wasn’t doing it. Hmmm… a bit of a sense of humour breakdown in some quarters methinks! One person even thought I’d been on Big Brother before – very odd.

James Graham complains that since you claim to have such great campaigning and communications skills, why have the Liberal Democrats in Wales stagnated in the last two assembly elections ?

No, the demarcation between the MPs and AMs in terms of leading the various election campaigns has been very clear in Wales since the Assembly was set up. In the Parliamentary General Election for which I WAS responsible as Leader, we doubled our seats from two to four. That was the result of superb local campaigns and I applaud what was achieved. A 100% increase doesn’t really qualify as stagnation, especially when the UK overall increase for the Party was only a fraction of this.

Do you think it was an error of judgement to support Charles?

No. I will never regret supporting Charles Kennedy when he was attacked for his drinking. I do regret to this day the way he was made to resign by the action of colleagues. In my view, we should have worked with him and supported him, especially given his candid and honest statements about it at that time. I judge people by results, and Charles delivered the best results we’d had for 8 decades, and had tremendous popularity. Had Charles been allowed to continue, I believe we could have de-stigmatised the question of alcoholism in the UK. That could have helped millions of people. That was an opportunity missed. Charles remains a great friend to me personally, and he has my loyalty as a colleague to this day.

Why didn't you stand against Simon Hughes in 2006?

Simon beat me for the Presidency in 2004, and I judged that my best contribution would be as Senior Vice President – Simon’s Number 2 basically. We work well together and I felt the right thing to do was to actively sign Simon’s nomination form in 2006 as a vote of confidence in his Presidency and for an effective team. He’s popular, hard working and I think the membership has enjoyed his incumbency a lot. I’m a democrat and I was happy to go along with what feels like a consensus. For me to have stood against him in 2006 would have been both pointless and vain glorious.

You have been criticised for being behind the curve by not having your campaign ready in Bournemouth why was that?

My best friend, David Hamer, died on 6th August 2008 with no warning, aged 46. I’d also had some other very difficult personal news shortly before this. I had to deal with these emotional body blows first. This meant I didn’t have so much stuff organised at the Bournemouth conference. I’d also managed to contract something like bronchitis at the time, which I’m sure was a direct result of the emotional distress I was experiencing. These things happen and you can’t really plan for them. I’m glad I got through it as fast as I did. A lot of people have been hugely supportive over this period. I’m really grateful to have had this support – I can’t put my thanks into words really. Anyway, that’s why I didn’t have so many leaflets and all that at Conference.

There is a view that you are a bit of a publicity hungry one man band - is that fair?

Er, yes. Like any MP, I want to be out there and reported. In comparison to colleagues I do get lot of publicity – some welcome and some not. But that’s the world we live in. As with other high profile national figures, it’s inevitable because more people will have an opinion on individuals they know than those they don’t. The one man band idea is hardly in line with the way people in the Party know me to work. I actually prefer working in a team than on my own. It’s the way I get the best out of myself in fact. Having a personal profile beyond politics is rewarding. People who accuse me of being “publicity hungry” need to explain what they mean. As a Party, we’re not very savvy about non-political coverage. I’d like to help change this. I hope we’ll collectively build the Lib Dems into a Party painted in Primary Colours not pastel shades, and that means going outside the confines of the usual reporting – and doing it as a team.


Andy said...

Um.. in the middle of the last paragraph, there's what looks to be another question which you've missed and therefore not put as a separate line in bold. Either that, or Lembit talks to himself...

Linda Jack said...

Thanks Andy!!!

That'll learn me to try and copy and paste stuff without me glasses!


Anonymous said...

How dare Lembit claim he was responsible for increasing his majority in the 2005 election. His vote went up for one reason only and that reason is Sian Lloyd. She has huge local support and her family come from Montgomeryshire. When he ditched her for that awful Cheeky Girl, there was a big anti Lembit reaction right across Montgomeryshire. That remains the case and he's in grave danger of losing the seat. Welsh political commentators are already noting that there's a real chance Glyn Davies will beat Lembit.
Once again, Lembit re-writes history and tweaks the truth. Interstingly, he has never once acknowleged his debt to Ms Lloyd in this respect.
Also, his friend David Hamer died choking on his own vomit, with a number of empty bottles of wine etc by his side. He was probably an alcoholic. His drinking reputation was well known locally. As is Lembit's. Draw your own conclusion.....

Alasdair W said...

I voted for Ros Scott, however I felt the criticism of Lembit for his 'Personal Life' was unjustifiable, irrelevant and unfair. Having seen him at the Liberal Youth conference and heard him speak, I knew he could be well capable of the job. It was other reasons that got me to vote Ros. But the criticism made by some, was negative campaigning.

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