Lembit Opik “expelled” from Lib Dems for advising Tories how to beat us

Controversial former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik has reportedly been expelled from the Liberal Democrats after he spoke at a Conservative Party event on how to beat the Lib Dems.

From Nation Cymru:

Lembit Öpik, who used to be the MP for Montgomeryshire, upset his former colleagues when he claimed the party had become a “become a parody of itself” and suggested that there is “currently no vaccine against stupidity”.

In the run up to the Senedd election, he spoke at a ‘How to Stop the Lib Dems with Lembit Öpik’ event organised by the Conservative Party.

He was introduced by former Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling, Conservative Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell.

I feel quite sad about this because I remember the good times. I first came across Lembit in the early 90s when he was so focused on growing the party’s membership and was making a name for himself in the north east.

You can’t really be in a political party while very publicly advising another, so this was inevitable. I think that even those who have been exasperated by things that Lembit has done over the years will wish that things could have been different.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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27 Comments

  • Chris Bertram 9th Jun '21 - 9:03am

    Surprised at this, thought he had left us long ago.

  • I am very sad to read this. I worked with him in Montgomeryshire, where he was a good constituency MP despite his lifestyle. Having been involved in politics since my childhood, I thought I knew how to do do canvassing but a training session with Lembit showed how much more could be achieved. He was a great campaigner and was for many years an asset to the party, getting us more than 50% of the vote here in 2005. His endorsement of the Conservatives will not help us here, where we have now had 2 Tory MPs since he narrowly lost in 2010. I find it hard to understand how he has done this.

  • Andrew Page 9th Jun '21 - 9:57am

    I was aware he had been advising the Tories on how to beat us, but didn’t realise he was doing so while still a Lib Dem member. Like Chris, I thought he’d left us many years ago.

    It’s a shame, because my memories of Lembit are in championing civil liberties against the Blair government’s obsession with restricting freedoms – especially the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

  • Gwyn Williams 9th Jun '21 - 1:41pm

    I appreciate that Barry is using the term “lifestyle” as a broadbrush, old fashioned euphism. Lembit was unmarried when he was elected and had a well publicised personal life, while winning and then holding Montgomery through three General Elections. Lembit’s very public, high profile break up with Sian Lloyd was deeply painful for her. It was a seroius breach of trust. It was another high profile relationship with Gabriela Irimia that finally altered our voters view of him.
    The current report suggests that his trangression was speaking and supporting a Conservative event, rather than the substance of his comments.

  • Peter Davies 9th Jun '21 - 2:41pm

    It would have been the topic of his speech or of the event. Lib Dems regularly speak at other party conferences. They are usually speaking on behalf of pressure groups to drum up cross-party support a specific cause.

  • I have met Lembik on a number of occasions. A few years back, was at a London restaurant opening with the Cheeky girls in attendance. He always came across as a personable man.
    He must have been shocked at the loss of his Montgomeryshire seat to the Conservatives in 2010. He was highly critical of Nick Clegg’s leadership during the coalition years, but seemed genuinely hopeful at the 2015 Bournemouth conference that Tim Farron would be able to start the arduous process of restoring the party’s fortunes.
    It appears that he may wish to appeal the decision to expel him https://www.countytimes.co.uk/news/politics/19360045.astounded-lembit-opik-reacts-expulsion-lib-dems/ so this may not yet be the last we hear from Lembit.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jun '21 - 6:25pm

    The title of the talk that led to his expulsion, as stated in the OP, is ‘How to Stop the Lib Dems with Lembit Öpik’. So it’s clear enough that this wasn’t a talk on behalf of a pressure group. What I can’t get my head around is that he gave such a talk while he was a Lib Dem member. I can only assume it was a paid gig, but it seems such an open-and-shut case for expulsion (advising a rival political party) that one has to wonder how he could have thought it at all a sensible idea, however hard up he might have been.

  • James Fowler 9th Jun '21 - 8:03pm

    I remember Lembit as a very charismatic and personable MP from around 1998-2002. I lost touch with him after that, but was very sad and shocked in 2010 when he lost by 1200 votes, part of a bittersweet evening in many ways. However, I later heard that defeat had been quietly predicted in the run up to, and during, the campaign. Montgomery is now clearly solidly Tory. A shame, though perhaps not unexpected, as it’s worth remembering how narrowly Alex Carlisle scraped it back by in 1983 after a similarly careless loss in 1979.

  • An interesting contrast to the treatment of those politicians (of all parties) who advised the EU organisation on how to beat the UK during our withdrawal negotiations.

  • If it had been “adopt genuinely green policies, introduce STV for all council and Parliamentary elections, and rejoin the EU”..

    .. and they actually did those, I think we should have given him a peerage.

    As it wasn’t, expulsion was inevitable.

  • Callum Robertson 9th Jun '21 - 10:21pm

    Are the Lib Dem Voice comment section enthusiasts really going to make a song and dance about the man’s personal life.

    Plenty to criticise him for, his poor judgement, his ability to lose a safe seat, his ego.

    But one area we should not judge him on is his “lifestyle”. The fact someone is single and fools around isn’t really relevant for liberals who are, by tradition, people who believe in privacy.

  • Like others I thought he’d gone years ago.
    And like Caron, I too remember the good times. I didn’t always agree with him but he was fun and brought some energy to the party.
    But you can’t assist another party to beat the LibDems and still expect to be a member. It’s fairly simple.

  • Richard Easter 10th Jun '21 - 6:34am

    He was introduced by former Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling…

    Now if that isn’t embarassing, I don’t know what is!

  • Nicholas Alderton 10th Jun '21 - 10:08am

    It is inconceivable that Lembit gave this talk and I believe that he was quite rightly expelled from the party.
    However, I would just like to point out that Montgomery wasn’t lost in a ‘similarly careless’ way. Emlyn Hooson’s defeat in 1979 was due to a number of factors, not least his support for the devolution referendum, the Lib-Lab pact, and the changing demographic nature of the constituency. Emlyn Hooson’s personal life didn’t come into the equation, it was purely politics.

  • David Warren 10th Jun '21 - 12:12pm

    I have to disagree with Callum Robertson. Men like Lembit Obik who treat woman badly demonstrates a character type. I have observed a few of these types over the years and they see women as playthings who they can toy with before moving on or in some cases focusing on another conquest whilst still in a relationship. This can also involve fathering children which the men concerned then fail to properly provide for.

    All this is relevant because it is a pattern of behaviour. One that I and many other totally disaprove of.

  • Ronald Murray 10th Jun '21 - 1:48pm

    Very sad no idea what to say he must have expected this outcome. No other was possible. Sadly he maybe needed the money.

  • Tony Harris 10th Jun '21 - 2:03pm

    I find it inconceivable that a Party member could operate in the way that he has while expecting to remain or continuing to remain a Party member. Change your allegiance if you must but resign first. ‘Private Eye’ had an interesting piece on him a few weeks ago something about being a ‘space cadet’ or similar. Read the piece. It’s interesting.

  • James Fowler 10th Jun '21 - 5:12pm

    @Nicholas Alderton – I think there was a certain degree of carelessness and complacency in the way that we lost Mont in ’79. Obviously different in the specifics to 2010, but it had become taken for granted on both occasions.

  • In 1979 David Steele came briefly to the constituency. Being fairly new to a Liberal area, although not a Liberal-voter at the time, I went to see him in Newtown. He spoke extremely briefly along the lines of ” You have held the seat for 99 years there’s not much I can tell you”. The campaign was along traditional lines but I was not canvassed, despite living in a reasonably big village on a main road. In 2010 there was a big campaign, steered by an experienced and very capable agent, with help from neighbouring constituencies. There was no complacency because we knew what the Tory campaign would be like.

  • Sandy Walkington 11th Jun '21 - 11:41am

    I was involved in the 1979 campaign in Montgomery because I was Emlyn Hooson’s parliamentary research assistant (in those days a ‘chocolate soldier’ since I was funded by Rowntree pre Short Money). I remember being surprised by the lack of formal canvassing (‘but this is how we always campaign here’) and doing nothing on Sundays and frustrated by the lack of access to stuff I took for granted – letraset, offset litho printing etc. Emlyn was distracted by his duties as Welsh leader speaking on behalf of other candidates and the need to drive to Cardiff and back for tv interviews and programmes. We made what was possibly the worst party political broadcast in modern times. The creation of a new town at Newtown had brought many outsiders in who were enchanted by Margaret Thatcher’s offer to sell council houses – knocking up on polling day in Newtown was hideous. But it was a bitter blow to lose. Emlyn had won Montgomery in a by-election and former LibDem leader Clement Davies’s last great contribution to the party was to die shortly after rather than before Orpington, otherwise the seat might have been lost previously. The other Clement (Freud) was livid at Emlyn’s loss because he lost a lot of money on a bet he thought was a sure fire thing.

  • James Fowler 11th Jun '21 - 10:35pm

    Hi Sandy, that’s really interesting. I have also heard that Emlyn Hooson’s stance on hunting alienated a lot of farmers – is that fair? Barry – that’s really interesting too, because my recollection of 2010 is of Ceredigion as a forest of LD posters and in Mont scarcely any. Which is not to say that the campaign wasn’t well run, just that priorities lay elsewhere.

  • John Barrett 12th Jun '21 - 11:30am

    No doubt Lembit will appeal against this decision and any publicity he gains as a result of any long drawn out process will suit his never ending attempts to remain in the public eye.

    It appears that his membership of the party is no longer something he values and if he is willing to speak about how to defeat its candidates, this alone should be enough to warrant immediate suspension. He should have left before he spoke on the subject and retained a little dignity and self respect. Sadly it is now too late for that.

  • I understand that helping your political opponents might be unwise but Is it wrong for a member of a political party to be critical of that party’s stance on certain issues, whether political or organisational, especially when that party is not doing well ? It might turn out to be helpful over time.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Jun '21 - 8:17am

    nvelope2003: Lembit wasn’t expelled for criticising the party in public, he was expelled for advising a rival political party. We don’t expel members merely for publicly rubbishing the party, although given his record I don’t think his criticisms would be taken very seriously by anyone within or without the party.

  • Alex Macfie: Whenever I heard Lembit Opik speak he usually came across as rational and often very perceptive although I did not agree with everything he said. I guess his colourful private life was not to everyone’s taste. Although the Liberals held Montgomeryshire for most of the last 140 years majorities were not always huge but there were some occasions when they held the seat unopposed. I would not be surprised if they regained it at some point. This is the sort of place where the candidate makes the difference and recent trade deals might not be to everyone’s liking.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Jun '21 - 7:29pm

    nvelope2003: You should perhaps read David Warren’s comment. It wasn’t a matter of a “colourful private life” but the way he treats women that’s cause for concern. And yes, I know that should put Johnson under scrutiny, but clearly there are different standards for Tories, especially Old Etonians.
    “I would not be surprised if [Lib Dems] regained [Montgomeryshire] at some point” I’d like to think we would, but maybe the same changes in voting patterns that led to us winning C&A will also make us less likely to do well in mid-Wales in the future. Maybe we can wrestle it back, but probably not at the next election.

  • nvelope2003 21st Jun '21 - 4:34pm

    I thought Lembit Opik’s past views were very well thought out and expressed in clear terms so it is regrettable that he seems to have joined the Conservatives but he has only done what many former Liberal Democrats seem to have done in their former heartlands where they have moved to the Conservatives in Montgomeryshire and Brecon & Radnor and to Plaid in Ceredigion. The Conservatives seem to be growing in Wales, possibly due to English incomers but also due to changing attitudes with the decline of the Nonconformist churches. Even in rural areas the majority of people are not farmers, although others may be involved with agriculture in some way.
    It did not help the party that the former Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon was in the Welsh Labour Cabinet which may have influenced the former Lib Dem voters. I understand that the present Welsh Leader has no plans to support other parties. The electorate needs some distinctive policies put forward with sincerity and enthusiasm not talk of holding the balance of power which will frighten the voters who seem to fear coalitions.

    Apparently the 8 seat reduction in the number of MPs for Wales will mean the end of Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnor and possibly Ceredigion as separate constituencies so my predictions may need adjusting.

    I take your point about David Warren’s comment. I do try to be careful in making comments about things I am not fully acquainted with. You are right in thinking that the party seems to be gaining ground in different places now but it would be wrong to completely write off former areas of support. However that could mean a different type of Liberal Democrat party from the one we have been accustomed too. It might even appeal to the voters of Mid Wales.

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