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?
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