Tuesday, 1 September 2009

In (partial) defence of Lembit Opik

I don't normally read Lembit Opik's column in the Daily Sport - it's not really my preferred sort of reading.

But when someone (in this case Jane Watkinson - hello again Jane!) uses one of his articles to make a call for him to be chucked out the party, I'll make it my business to have a look at what he's written to decide if he deserves the suggested punishment.

And in this case, not in a million years. I'm not Lembit's biggest fan - I didn't vote for him in either party presidential election - but there is nothing there that would justify a charge of bringing the party into disrepute or withdrawing the party whip from him. Yes, he does sometimes make slightly risque and somewhat sexist jokes in his column, but he also uses it to make some good political points in a way his readership can engage with. Although I'm not keen on the occasional sexism, is it enough to justify chucking him out the party?

Even though his column appears in the porn-heavy Daily Sport, I don't think that is sufficient justification for chucking him out either. Let's face it, Nick Clegg has written for the Mail and the Sun, but that doesn't mean he shares those papers' views towards foreigners. Appearing in a paper does not equal approving of everything in that paper.

I've known Lembit for several years - I seem to recall getting some public speaking training from him at a youth and student conference at least 15 years ago - and he is somebody who is usually charming and able to engage with people on their own level.

I would also say his views are liberal. Although I would disagree with Lembit on the detail of quite a few policies, I am in no doubt that his views are derived from a liberal viewpoint.

I also think that the sort of individuality, even eccentricity, that Lembit displays is exactly what our party should be about. Chucking him out the party would send a signal that we're a pretty humourless bunch who want everyone to act and think exactly the same. Is that really the image you want people to have of the party, Jane?

That's not to say that everything that Jane says is wrong or over the top. With the talents Lembit has, he should have been challenging for the party leadership by now. Jane is correct to talk about Lembit's fundamental lack of seriousness, which I believe has held him back from achieving all he could have done in politics. Instead, he seems content to revel in the world of being a C-list celebrity.

Lembit's done nothing sufficiently bad to justify throwing him out of the party. But this little spat is indicative of his failure as a politician. He's allowed an element of frivolity to become the dominant part of his public persona. If he wants to be thought of as a serious politician rather than just a celeb, he will have to become more serious. I wonder if he's capable of that?


Anonymous said...

As I've posted on Jane's blog before, I don't believe for a moment that Lembit actually writes that column; apart from it not reading like anything that passes his lips for a start, it's a fact that the only people that use the word "stunnas"(sic) are Daily Sport hacks. That said, Lembit must be crazy if he's rubber-stamping these somewhat embarrassing columns unread, and misguided at best and stupidly ignorant at worst if he's actively sanctioning them. He continues to do the Party no favours, no matter how genuine his liberalism may be underneath it all.

Anonymous said...

"I also think that the sort of individuality, even eccentricity, that Lembit displays is exactly what our party should be about"

None shall be enslaved by conformity

JaneWatkinson said...

Well I am glad this has stimulated debate but I stand by what I said. Obviously, as I said in my blog, I know that a lot will disagree with me. But I have a few reservations about what you wrote...

Good political points? So wanting a woman to dress up to fulfil one of his sexual fantasies whilst politicians chuck tomatoes at the journalists is a good political comment?????! It is also not the occasional sexism, it is all the time, and the fact he writes in that article cannot be compared to the likes of Clegg who writes in the newspapers such as the Sun, as that is a formalised newspaper, Daily Sport has no real news in it. Yesterday, the front page was full of the amazing news that they had got new images of Brintey's breasts! I just think it sends the wrong image for him to write in something like that.

It is what he is like in totality too, it's not just his article, whilst that is a big part of it. So chucking out of the party would ruin our fun side?? Why does that matter? We are a serious politcal party, and I am sure if it was a woman in the party who acted the way he does about women towards men you wouldn't be so supportive. It further puts me off politcs and sometimes makes me question why the hell i am even in this party that is supposed to be against sexism and for equality!

Bernard Salmon said...

Jane, a few points. Firstly, can you provide any evidence whatsoever that Lembit's antics have damaged the party, rather than just damaging Lembit?
Secondly, I did not say, and nor do I think, that we should keep Lembit in the party to show our 'fun side'. You are putting words into my mouth, in a way I don't appreciate. What I did say is that our party is about celebrating individuality, and that is certainly something Lembit represents.
As to having some good political points, he has said things about Afghanistan and civil liberties in recent columns. He has also said something about a campaign to end size zero for fashion models, which given your other views is something I presume you would support.
As to your points about the Daily Sport, it's not a paper I read or like, but I beleive it does have the right to exist and people do have the right to read, and write for, such trash if they wish.
Or are you suggesting that we shouldn't try and get our message out in a paper like The Sun because of the existence of Page 3? I doubt we'll ever get into government if our politicians are only ever able to write for The Guardian and the Indy.

JaneWatkinson said...

His antics endanger his seat, and so if he loses that, whilst is quite a safe seat, then that is a damage to the party and it's reputation. I don't need to cite examples after examples to show how his way of doing 'politics' is damaging us as a party. It just reduces our credibilty as a serious party.

Well i got from this comment...:

"Chucking him out the party would send a signal that we're a pretty humourless bunch who want everyone to act and think exactly the same."

... that you thought chucking him out of the party would mean that the party looks like it can't have a laugh, hence your humourless comment. That to me is about keeping our 'fun image' in the mainstream. I am not putting words into your mouths, simply repeating what you said in a different way.

Well those political points are overshadowed by the complete nonsense he writes. Anyway, the readership of the Daily Sport are not really buying the newspaper to catch up on the news. They are buying it for the images that surround the few articles it contains.

I didn't say it should not exist, i said that a member of our party, who represents our party, a party that is supposed to represent equality and opporunity should not be writing in it! As a paying member of our party, i have every right to state my concerns. I joined the Lib Dem's because i thought they were different, and had respect towards women.

I didn't say that we should not write in the Sun. I said above that Nick Clegg writing in the Sun is fine! - here is the quote to reinforce this:

"the fact he writes in that article cannot be compared to the likes of Clegg who writes in the newspapers such as the Sun, as that is a formalised newspaper, Daily Sport has no real news in it."

The Daily Sport is NOT a newspaper. It is a cheap excuse for a porn magazine. The Sun has a host full of news, the Daily Sport hasn't.

Bernard Salmon said...

So, how much news does a paper have to contain before it becomes acceptable for Lib Dems to write for it? Or how many tits does it have to contain for it to be unacceptable?
And can you provide any evidence that Lembit's seat is in danger? As you admit, it's a pretty safe seat.

JaneWatkinson said...

I don't have to define how much of this or how much of that to make the obvious point that the Daily Sport is not fit for a politican who is supposed to represent an equality promoting party. I have only once bought the Daily Sport, and frankly i didn't count how many tits are included, but there are more than enough to constitue a porno.

I have heard speculation that it is in danger.

Bernard Salmon said...

If Lembit's main crime is his sexism, I suspect that is one unfortunately shared by a quite a number of people in our party. There can't be too many people (male and female) who have not made sexist comments at some time or another. Will we have any party left once the Jane Watkinson Thought Police have done their work?

JaneWatkinson said...

There is making the one off sexist joke, but then there is repeatedly writing in a degrading newspaper like that talking about women in degrading ways. Making out i am some evil person just for saying how much i disagree with this is wrong. I am sorry if you see me as some kind of police person, but i am just standing up for what i believe in. After all, what is politics if you have to just toe to the party line. I am fed up of the type of disrespect this party shows towards women, and your attitude towards me now is just part of that. It seems so pointless even voicing my concerns when I am beaten down like the way you have just done.

He is a representative! not just a member. That shows i am not a thought police. I am questioning the conduct of a representative, and so if i do not like what he says i can bloody well say i dont.

Bernard Salmon said...

Calm down, Jane - I never said (nor thought) that you are an evil person, nor have I suggested that you are not entitled to air your views. And who mentioned anything about just toeing a party line? I also don't think I have displayed any particular attitude towards you.
All I have done is asked you to consider the logical consequences of where your belief would take us a party if every sexist comment or joke were met with threats of expulsion. I accept you think Lembit is in an entirely different league, but I think you're wrong on that.

JaneWatkinson said...

Well from your comments such as the thought police i took it as a big diss at me, and who i am and what i believe. It made me feel as though i could not say what i believe without being seen as controlling. By the party line I am referring to how i feel as though i cannot speak out against an MP without being seen as a traitor. Well i believe sexist remarks by any politican should be pulled up on. I remember recently a member of the Conservatives was pulled up for saying that he only hired women who were attractive. Have we really pulled up Opik for writing this rubbish? No we haven't. And that is deeply damaging to our parties stance on being tough in terms of helping promote equality. I joined this party as i thought they looked the best to help tackle women and men equality issues, but it is seemingly looking as though i was wrong.

Also, i remind you of your comments around changing cultural attitudes towards women. Surely, Opik writing these types of articles being a prominent member of our party who is supposed to represent what we beleive, is something you would say is not helping our cutural attitudes in changing? Or are we supposed to just sit back and let the magical dust change our culture?

Bernard Salmon said...

You can take my comments any way you want, but they certainly weren't intended as 'a big diss'. I believe in robust debate and I tend to believe those I debate with are capable of handling that.
As to your comments about challenging sexism, I think I made clear in my posting that I don't particularly approve of Lembit's attitudes, but I think chucking him out of the party would be a vast over-reaction.

JaneWatkinson said...

I found your comment of me being a thought police deeply offensive. There is having a debate, and then there is representing my views and what i believe wrongly.

Why would it? His attitudes are so against what our core beliefs are, why should he attempt to represent them as an MP? I would find it hard to vote for the Lib Dems if i was in his constituency, as he doesn't to me represent what a Lib Dem MP should stand for.

Bernard Salmon said...

Well, if you choose to take offence where none is intended, that is up to you. But I wonder whether it indicates that you're prone to over-reacting to things, as I think you're doing with your belief that Lembit should be chucked out the party.
As to your comments about Lembit's core beliefs, I think any rational assessment of what he believes would conclude that he is within the liberal mainstream on most issues, if not all. You are entitled to disagree, but I don't see that any other description would be more appropriate.

JaneWatkinson said...

How can I choose to take offence? I wouldn't choose that, as it isn't the nicest feeling. And no, I have not overacted to this. This is something I feel strongly about. How can writing about women in that way be liberal? I really don't see that. I think this isn't going to annoy you as much as it does me, as you don't have to deal with the every day degradation that women have to suffer. I don't appreciate someone who is supposed to be representing our party writing like that and in that type of newspaper. He is not a serious politician, he is just in the party for the media attention. But I am afraid it is the wrong type of attention. Swinging voters I have talked to about this agree with me that they can't take the Lib Dems seriously with him in the party, it's just a fact.

Bernard Salmon said...

If that's the case, it sounds to me more like a post-rationalisation of a decision they've already made about not supporting the party, if they're allowing a relatively minor figure like Lembit to affect their decision about who to vote for. And I could easily point out that other parties contain similar figures to Lembit who aren't exactly known for being serious figures.

Anonymous said...

Lembit's seat is most certainly in danger, tp the extent that the Welsh party wanted to replace him. They didn't get their way, mainly because one of the grandees stepped forward to protect him.
Kirsty Wiliams can't satand Lembit, partly because of the very blatant sexism he constantly displays. Unsurprising, when you look at his choice of women. Frankly, I don't see how anyone can take a politician who dates a cheeky Girl seriously, especially when he tried to tout the other one in parliament. And this recent "relationship" with a so called galmour girl, has been proved to be a sham. The man is an embarrassing fool who is addicted to publicity and has zero respect for women. By his own admission, he regards Jordan as a role-model for women. His attitude is ghastly and is just one fo the reasons why I'd like him out of the party. For the life of me, I can't understand why Nick Clegg and the party hierarchy put up with it. He's probably responsible for causing more damage than anyone ever has.
His opponent in Mid Wales is a well regarded local farmer, who does lots of work for charity and only lost his Assembly seat because of the silly list system in Wales. He was much liked in Cardiff Bay. Increasingly, even thos who've been life-long LDs are saying they will vote for him as long as Lembit stands. In fact, Lembit Opik is the only Liberal who could possibly lose that Montgomeryshire seat. Locally, he is regarded as a car crash and is referred to as Grope-it Opik.
His seat is widely regarded to be in danger. Even the BBC in Wales have decided to place an OB unit there on election night. Those who think otherwise should check the odds.

JaneWatkinson said...

No it just shows how he is part of reason people don't vote. Even if isn't main one he is part of why people don't always take us seriously. He makes me question my membership, as it is a reflection of the leaderships unwillingness to do anything too. Yes there are clowns in the other parties but they are pulled up when they step out of line. Boris Johnson is a good example. They also don't write degrading non political articles in shabby newspapes either.

JaneWatkinson said...

And whoever did the anonymous comment, I totally agree with you and well said.

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