Lembit: time for Lib Dems to stop the conspiracy against me

A fairly extraordinary press release has been issued by Lembit Opik – one of the three Lib Dems standing for the post of party presidency which will be decided by an all-member ballot within the next few weeks – demanding an end to an alleged “conspiracy” in the party against his candidacy.

I’ll reproduce the whole release below, but here’s the part which will cause some sharp intakes of breath:

If anyone is conspiring against me I ask them to stop … I don’t agree with conspiracies in the Liberal Democrats. That’s why I backed former leader Charles Kennedy to the end – I was appalled by the perceived internal campaign against him. That’s why I defended Ming Campbell up to his moment of resignation, in the face of a whispering campaign against him too. I still refuse to play any part in such negative campaigning.”

Quite why Lembit should feel it’s appropriate to rake over the ashes of the Kennedy and Campbell resignations in a way that paints the party in quite such an unattractive (and, in my view, misleading) light is beyond me. To do so in a campaign for a post which is, above all, about uniting the party and moving it forwards smacks of appallingly poor judgement.

Editor’s note: Lib Dem Voice has volunteered to remain neutral in internal party elections. However, such defensive statements by a candidate which serve only to feed the anti-Lib Dem narrative of much of the media is, I believe, reckless. I hope this is the last we’ll see of it from Lembit’s campaign.

The full press release is below:

ÖPIK OFFERS ‘POSITIVE CAMPAIGNING’ IN RESPONSE TO ‘CONSPIRACY’

Lembit Öpik MP has hit out at the negative campaign allegedly being waged against him by asking the Liberal Democrat membership to ‘change up a gear towards Government’ by backing him for President.

It comes after reports of an organised ‘Stop Öpik’ campaign by his opponents.

Lembit said: “The enemy of the Liberal Democrats is conventionalism and conservatism. Everyone knows I’m neither conventional nor conservative! My national profile and my total adherence to liberal principles means I stand out in a clear and lively way. That’s why I was awarded the GovnetUK Alternative Politician of the year Award this week. That’s why I’m standing for President to breathe the same life and soul into our Party.

“The challenge to the membership is this: if a Lib Dem Party promoting itself in clear, bold, primary colours scares you, then don’t vote for me. But if you dare take our story, our image, and our vision to the citizens in refreshing and colourful, inspired ways, then voting for me is a vote for exactly that approach.

“If anyone is conspiring against me I ask them to stop a moment and consider this. I reach beyond the normal political barricades to real people in real homes living real lives. So we must decide: more of the same or change up a gear towards Government. That’s what this presidential election is about a vote for me is a vote for that ambition. And sure there’s a risk, but there’s a bigger risk if we just carry on doing everything the same way, like we’ve always done. Let’s take the exciting path, the road less travelled. The one which can lead us to Government.”

Lembit added, “I don’t agree with conspiracies in the Liberal Democrats. That’s why I backed former leader Charles Kennedy to the end I was appalled by the perceived internal campaign against him. That’s why I defended Ming Campbell up to his moment of resignation, in the face of a whispering campaign against him too. I still refuse to play any part in such negative campaigning.”

Former Leicester South MP and by-election winner Parmjit Singh Gill said: “The membership know the score, they know Lembit’s record of loyalty to the Party and to its leaders. And they know his faith in positive campaigning, not negative spin. If they agree with Lembit, they know what to do. It’s up to the members to make that choice, but I think in a democratic organisation the members should be in charge. That’s what Lembit thinks and that’s the attitude I want from my Party President.”

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81 Comments

  • rochdale cowboy 17th Oct '08 - 10:36am

    From a purely neutral point – really no axe to grind – I have to say that I have seen a number of anti Opik comments from Lib Dems across the political media – mostly subscibing to a kind of anything but Opik view – which I think is a little unfair – let people make their own minds up. ie keep the arguments political – not personal.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 17th Oct '08 - 11:07am

    Interesting.

    “Neutral website attacks Opik, ridiculing talk of anti-Lembit conspiracies”

  • Susan Gaszczak 17th Oct '08 - 11:54am

    I almost blogged about the Shropshire Star last night too, Duncan. But decided blog posts at 2.30am was not a sensible move…

    As I said on my blog – can we just get back to this being a democratic election, the way we normally do?

  • Peter Chapman 17th Oct '08 - 11:59am

    The reality is Ros has been carefully campaigning to be President for Months and Lembit has just realised he is about the be humiliated in the vote.

    Maybe he cannot see that recent publicity about him in which he cannot claim to have had no input has made ordinary members decide aginst his ‘colourful’ approach to politics.Isnt that a repectable enough view?

  • Liam Pennington 17th Oct '08 - 12:12pm

    When the choice is between (and no offence to Chandila Fernando, or whatever his name, but this truely is a 2-horse race) Lembit and Ros, the winner is clear.

    Lembit has completely mishandled his role as a “face” of the Party. Being seen on countless shows as the punchline to every joke, seemingly proud of his bed-hopping reputation, the Segway embarrasment, those damned asteroids and sing-a-longs….

    I’d wouldn’t like to be a member under a Opik Presidency. It would be too prone to easy attacks.

    Baroness Scott is a far more credible choice. She has spent the last year getting to know the Party across the nation, not appearing as the wayward “wacky liberal” desperate for headlines.

  • Grace Goodlad 17th Oct '08 - 1:28pm

    Lembit has courted media coverage for years in publications such as Hello, Closer and Heat and also pursued television engagements on programmes such as HIGNFY and Celebrity The Apprentice (which although it made me cringe it was to his credit for a very good, charitable cause).

    Because he has created a media image which now makes many think of him as a Personality first rather than a serious Politcian he has rather made himself a rod for his own back in terms of what is currently happening. I do feel sorry for him. Many LibDems do feel that his behaviour has discredited him as a serious candidate – but as far as I am aware there is no conspiracy Not even a hint of one.

    Lembit’s high profile personal life has made him into something of a love or loathe character amongst those who perhaps don’t know him that well, and sadly for him this means some people are not willing to consider him at all for this role. I am aware of individuals who are taking an “anyone but” stance, but no groups or organisations doing so.

    My personal views are pretty well known by people, and I am not supporting Lembit but I would never challenge his commitment or work rate. Many of us supporting other candidates do have a lot of time and respect for him, it is just deeply disappointing that his media profile has damaged his credibility so much and that now press coverage like this is coming out. The last thing anyone wants is for any of the three candidates to emerge from what should be an amicable constructive election looking how John McCain does now.

    I really hope that all 3 candidates will try to remain clean and positive in their campaigns during the closing stages and the outcome gives a strong and effective president.

  • Grace Goodlad 17th Oct '08 - 1:30pm

    And in a separate note –

    James Graham – How VERY dare you. Bah humbug. Mea culpa or not you have just gone right off the Christmas Card list of cards that we never get round to sending……..

    Peter Chapman – Campaigning for months? Try YEARS……

  • Serious for our party 17th Oct '08 - 1:50pm

    I’m certain that Lembit has much to contribute to our party. But people regard him (and I guess he aims for this) as a personality who is fairly well known and NOT as a serious national politician. We don’t want to have to make excuses for Lembit’s “celebrity” involvements. A president like a leader needs to be taken seriously. Would the Presidency be merely used as another rung on the celebrity ladder ? A political party needs to have far greater priority than this. The Party must come first.
    There is no conspiracy that we know of just an instictive feeling that Ros more than Lembit will put the party rather than celebrity first.

  • Neil Bradbury 17th Oct '08 - 1:55pm

    The idea that this website is nuetral is a joke. I’ve not heard anyone say why they are voting for Ros (and this includes her high profile backers) apart from she listens. The main points are that she has more time on her hands and the president shouldn’t be an MP.

    Jennies comments “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am not part of any conspiracy. I just think a candidate other than Lembit ought to win” sums it up. Basically Ros’s entire campaign is presaged around her not being Lembit. He’s a controversial figure and I’m critical at times but I’m voting for him because he’s at least advocated some policies.

    The presidency isn’t a step up for him, it won’t raise his profile amazingly. He’s running because he genuinely believes he can add value for the party which he obviously loves. So, bitchy bloggers – get off his back. We’re all part of the same political family and people are trying to rubbish him.

  • Grace Goodlad 17th Oct '08 - 4:36pm

    Not sure we can try to persuade you to vote for Ros on what is meant to be a non-partisan site!!! But there are many more good reasons – why not email her via her site and get some answers? Or check out her blog? Equally compare these to Lembit and Chandila’s sites and see what you think.

    And I agree that most of what people have said to you is rubbish, but she does have a clear platform she is standing on, with many positive reasons to support her.

  • Serious for our party 17th Oct '08 - 5:06pm

    Positive for Ros ‘
    1. She has the time to devote to the Presidency – neither has to defend a constituency (nor respond to TV/Celebrity requests!)
    2. Ros has extensive local government experience which is invaluable for our promotion as a party.
    3. Ros (as is Lembit) is an instinctive Liberal – and can expound in a very effective way.
    4. With Gender balance important – it is high time we had a woman at the top !
    5. At this time of crisis we need a serious approach to problems.

  • David Allen 17th Oct '08 - 5:40pm

    “I’m voting for (Opik) because he’s at least advocated some policies.”

    Actually, I don’t think that is a good reason for electing a President. It is a great reason if you are electing a Leader, but that’s an entirely different job.

    We don’t want a President who will try to dictate party policy. If a candidate doesn’t sound as if he/she “stands for” a very distinctive political position within the party, then perhaps that’s because that candidate understands what the President’s role should be!

  • Mark Littlewood 17th Oct '08 - 6:23pm

    Intriguing press release from Lembit.

    The bit I find really odd is the use of the term “conspiracy”. I don’t think there is a conspiracy – unless this just means a lot of people working together to try and elect another candidate. But that is a campaign, not a conspiracy – unless there’s a big part of the story I don’t quite get here.

    The rest of the general content is in some ways pretty close to the pitch I’d be making if I was advising Lembit’s campaign, although I wouldn’t have used the same wording.

    He has spent too much time – just from his own tactical position – running on his record of X years of service and Y miles clocked up on his car rather than portraying himself as the exciting, high profile, risky option for change.

    Of course, a good number of members (maybe a majority…maybe even a big majority) may not want such a candidate. They may feel that that they want a safe pair of hands and/or a candidate with the tacit/explicit backing of the so-called party “establishment”. (Not that these are the only reasons for voting for Ros, but any member with such reasons would surely vote for Ros!).

    But if that is the prevailing view, Lembit can’t win anyway. He won’t win by just reiterating that he’s been on the FE for a zillion years or conducted a squillion training courses.

    In his own electoral interests, he’s better off essentially promising a rollercoaster of a ride, tons of TV airtime and oodles of edge-of-your seat excitement. And arguing that he is the risky option – but that the party has to take risks in the present climate. the Tories ran a “joker” for London mayor and it paid off, he could teh same thing shoudl apply here (although I appreciate the comparisons are far from perfect).

    But he hasn’t really built a narrative of “change” v “status quo”, which is one reason why Chandila’s candidacy has excited so much debate and attention.

    I have often said that it seems everyone in the party agrees we should take more risks, but when presented with any specific, actual risk we can take, the majority (or a blocking minority) often oppose it.

    That’s the sort of “challenge” that Lembit should be laying down. Combined with a bit more clarity about what he would and wouldn’t do as President, rather than what he has done to date. I’m not saying that would mean he should or would win, but it seems to me his only chance.

  • jules_smiles 17th Oct '08 - 7:13pm

    Blogging is a most curious activity. I find it quite disturbing. Call me soft, but I am really unhappy that so many people are so unkind to people who are presumably working towards the same end – that which is flagged on the back of our membership cards!

    As blogging seems to be all about people expressing their personal views, it is probably inevitable that feelings run high and things get published from behind the shelter of the monitor screen that would not be said face to face. The problem is that this creates a dynamic that is potentially destructive. Too much opinion and reaction to perceptions of people rather than exploration, understanding and discernment is unbalanced. Understanding is discounted, truth is harder to uncover and compromise, or consensus, on the way forward is harder to reach.

    When bloggers/newspapers publish things that are snide, unpleasant innuendo or falsehoods, my temptation is to stay cool, not react, allow the situation to diffuse or be forgotten. But then innuendo and falsehood spreads like a virus, distracting from the the real focus and creating dis-ease. Then it turns up in the Shropshire Star where it can impact close to home and constituency. Spreading innuendo is mischievous, dangerous anti-social and anti-democratic behaviour.

    Perhaps if all bloggers (journalists and Presidential campaigners?) would think carefully before writing about what reaction they want to provoke, or what response they want to achieve and – really important – ask themselves if what they intend to write is true, necessary or kind, then we might actually have a dialogue about differences, and foster an image that is more about putting policies and principles first, and less about individuals, prejudice, and apparent scrabbles up a pole.

    Most people are turned off Party politics – it in any wonder? Who wants to be in a team that tears people down, rather than builds people up? Who wants to engage in an activity that appears to be about ego, point scoring and personal put down, rather than problem solving? Why can’t we start to model respect for our colleagues, and respect people’s ability to make up their own minds on the evidence they have?

    Oh, and can someone (Jennie?) please explain to me, what is sexist about primary colours? I really would like to understand.

    Primary, pastel – male, female. I am a feminist, and I don’t make choices on the basis of gender. I like bold primary colours, and subtle pastels. I will choose what/who I think will work best for us in the environment we have to operate in. I will support whoever wins.

  • Clegg's Candid Friend 17th Oct '08 - 8:38pm

    Well, it will be interested to see how far this anti-Opik sentiment is reflected in the ballot of the party as a whole.

    We know the LDV poll of members produced only 10% backing for Opik, but we also know that only about 0.3% of the party’s membership voted in that poll. Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm for her in the “blogosphere”, I’m not convinced it’s entirely in the bag “4 Ros”.

  • Can I just point out how much I am enjoying this election!

    I think all three candidates present a distinctive approach. Taken together they show that we are a broad church of a party and we include all sorts of different people with different approaches to the same problems.

    I think Lembit’s outburst shows he really wants to win, which counts as a positive mark, but they way he’s gone about making it leaves me with a doubt about his methods, so ultimately it’s a mixed intervention in the campaign as far as I’m concerned. I think his character will always raise a smile in me, but it will also ensure he gets a mixed reception from the wider audience, so I can’t say I’ve yet made my mind up on him yet.

    Lembit definitely needs to find a role he can get his teeth into where he can be an even more positive force for the party, the question for me is whether this is the right one for his particular attributes.

  • sanbikinoraion: Confusingly, my partner has received ballot papers, but I have not. Clearly this is evidence of a conspiracy to disenfranchise Chandila supporters!

  • That is the best entry I have ever seen on this blog.
    Journalists and crazed single issue folk take note.

  • Thomas Hemsley 18th Oct '08 - 5:34pm

    I’m voting for Ros because:

    she’s been endorsed by many people whom I respect and like such as Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown.
    Her campaign has been consistent and committed.
    She has wide experience, in local government (v. important as our greatest strength, in my opinion) as well as business (which we need more credibility in).
    Also, and this is less a positive reason – she is a fresh face on the national stage, she doesn’t bring much baggage to her role.

    Lembit, I feel, has had too much averse publicity about him – some justified and encouraged by him, some unjustified. People I know do not think of him as ‘a good MP’, rather, they think as the person who went out with a Cheeky girl. Now it is not a problem to me who he goes out with, that is what the media will focus on. Instead, we need a stable, warm, good communicator who is fresh but has experience and can put across our message.

    On Chandila – my ideological differences are too large, and he used odd phrases like “a strong believer in the power of the broadcast media”, which sounds rather beelike to me.

  • Am I the only one who finds Lembit’s line :-

    “there’s a conspiracy against me, but I’m not going to specify its form”

    rather reminiscent of the line used against us in byelections of :-

    “Lib Dems are running a dirty campaign” (which is never backed up by specific examples) ??

    I’ve spent years defending Lembit against his critics, and he has many, many good features – but I’ve voted for Ros.

  • An internal administrative candidate is ideal in situations where the Party has to review its structures and build its organisation. In the run-up to a General Election, the Party should be looking for an inspirational “personality” who will motivate activists and get publicity for the Party. That is why I will vote for Lembit once I get round to it.

    While there is probably not a “conspiracy” against Lembit (apart from the Ros Scott campaign), it is certainly true that a number of opinionated, mouthy bloggers have turned on him in quite an unpleasant way.

    The case against Lembit seems to be that he is a flamboyant personality with a flair for self-promotion, rather than a colourless suit. As though larger-than-lifers had no place in politics. Yes they do. They can raise awareness, they can highlight specific issues, and they can make politics more accessible to the apathetic.

    I remember Cyril Smith, on the day the October 1974 election was called. He was in the centre of Ormskirk handing out pieces of gingerbread man to children. “The gingerbread man wants you to vote Liberal,” he intoned.

    Why do I mention this anecdote?

    (1) It was reported on prime-time news. (2) I remember it after 36 years. How many of Ros Scott’s utterances will be recalled in the middle of this century?

  • Sorry, I have lost my true identity once more!

  • Serious for our party 19th Oct '08 - 6:12pm

    Big problem ! If Lembit really believes that people are conspiring against him how on earth will he be able to deal with these people (let alone lead them in a united party) if he wins the Presidency ?

  • James Graham wrote:

    “That would be the October 1974 election where we got creamed, wouldn’t it?”

    The second best Liberal performance since the war (I think).

    Question: Would the Liberals have done nearly so well in the early-to-mid-1970s had it not been for the larger-than-life Jeremy Thorpe?

    Cyril Smith once said: “What this party needs is a bit of bloody razzamatazz”.

    And he had a point. Provided that the razzamatazz is used to promote liberal principles and liberal policies, and it is deployed skilfully, it has the potential to be an invaluable tool.

  • James Graham wrote:

    “and the deciding factor YOU are citing is Cyril Smith handing out gingerbread to small children.”

    That is not what I said (or at least not what I intended to convey).

    The point I was making (but failed to get across in some cases, evidently) is that what Cyril Smith said in Ormskirk that day (something utterly trivial, as it happens) was reported on prime-time TV, and I remember it to this day.

    Historically, those Liberals who have been most successful are those who have proved capable of drawing attention to themselves and have found ways of saying things that get people to remember them.

    David Penhaligon is a better example than Cyril Smith. His great talent was getting people to listen to him and remember what he said. Something Nick Clegg lacks, I’m sorry to say.

    I’m not saying the Parliamentary Party should be a bunch of loveable eccentrics. We need the serious guys and gals too. The Chris Huhnes and the Vince Cables. But we do have to make politics more fun and inject a bit of razzamatazz into an increasingly dull business.

    (I’m trying my damndest to remember something Nick Clegg has said. I’m scratching my head and nothing is coming. Oh, and Nick, get rid of that suit just once in a while, please. Or wear a chalk-stripe.)

    MatGB:

    I do not doubt that Ros Scott is a worthy, admirable and capable lady. I just don’t think she is what’s needed at the moment. You get your structures right AFTER a General Election, not in the run-up period. If our organisation really is such a dog’s breakfast, then we must be asking serious questions of the people who allowed this state of affairs to arise in the first place.

  • I have to write 500 times: when using a public computer, remember to fill in one’s name and email address.

  • I’ve just had a look at Ros Scott’s blog, and I have to concede: she isn’t dull.

  • Like I said before I’m really enjoying this election – it’s just a shame that we can’t combine all the strengths of each individual to form an idealised president!

    Having met two of the candidates yesterday I am reassured we have the talent in our party to make a considerable impression going forward because both made strong cases to me for why I should give them their vote (Lembit’s eagerness and enthusiasm was both impressive even if it did take me back a bit!).

    It was interesting to press them on some these issues and see how they reacted, so ultimately I’m more undecided than I was before!

  • Adrian Pennock 23rd Oct '08 - 3:04pm

    Lembit’s conspiracy angle sits well with the refusal to organise official hustings and let members see for themselves that the Baroness ought not to be party president for very obvious reasons which would be exposed in a hustings scenario.

  • Hywel Morgan 24th Oct '08 - 10:00am

    “that the Baroness ought not to be party president for very obvious reasons which would be exposed in a hustings scenario.”

    That’s an allegation/innuendo which needs further explanation.

    Whether your for or anti Ros she’s a member of the House of Lords, former candidate and party spokesperson on various issues. That makes it pretty clear that she passes the threshold of basic capability to be President and represent that party.

  • Adrian Pennock 24th Oct '08 - 3:07pm

    You’ll only find out (what it is) when you meet her in person. Otherwise on paper and from what we already know “Ros [is] a member of the House of Lords, former candidate and party spokesperson on various issues. That makes it pretty clear that she passes the threshold of basic capability to be President and represent that party.”

  • Hywel Morgan 24th Oct '08 - 3:18pm

    Sorry Adrian – you can’t just make vague innuendos like that. At least not if you want to be taken vaguely seriously.

    Lots of people (me included) have met Ros – and long before she thought of running for President. Nothing from meeting her suggested she didn’t have the basic competence to be President rather than your suggestion that there is some personality flaw that should rule her out.

  • Mark Littlewood 24th Oct '08 - 5:18pm

    Pretty bizarre – and elliptical – allegation re: Ros. Why not just spell out what your problem is with her? I went to the Liberty Network hustings and saw all three candidates perform. I really can’t imagine what you’re referring to.

    On the hustings point though, I think the party should organise a handful of set piece hustings for a contest like this – maybe 4 of so across the country.

    The problem is that not doing so aids the frontrunner really and – a bit like leadership election hustings – its a good trail by ordeal.

  • I’m voting for Lembit. As much as I like Ros, I think Lembit is the best candidate. He’s done more than most to promote our party and liberal values.

  • I voted for Lembit. Ros Scott would be a disaster for us. An utterly awful candidate IMHO.

  • Serious for our party 26th Oct '08 - 3:07pm

    Ros “an utterly awful candidate” ! Come off it Jay Entee. How well do you know Ros ? How do you substantiate your “awful” and “disaster “claims ? As far as I’m concerned such claims have no foundation at all.

  • Mark Littlewood 3rd Nov '08 - 2:39am

    Seems very reasonable.

    But…

    Is that in your capacity as an independent moderator of the independent LibDem website, LDV?

    Or do you have any professional relationship with anyone running the election?

    Or both?

    (I have enough respect for Mark P. that I know he can distinguish between the two, and probably balance them properly…am only asking…)

    PS.

    (For info, the only comments you’ll get from my computer are from my and – very occasionally – the missus…although, that could well be ruled to be two people from only one computer)

  • Lembit is wrong to imagine that there is a conspiracy against him :there is no need for one.

    I speak as the agent who got more votes for Haringey’s Brian Hayley in the last run-off for Mayor of London than Lembit scored.
    Lembit is right to say that conventionality and conservatism are not prime LibDem Presidential qualities.But prudence and continuity are, and he doesn’t offer these . “Alternative Politician of the Year” just about sums it up : Lembit’s poor judgement and knack of alienating large chunks of the public are the very qualities you don’t need in a President. Helpfully, Lembit makes these obvious at every turn.

  • Sorry, I completely missed 2008 date! Why are we getting this now?

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