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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lembit revisited

I can exclusively reveal that Liberal Democrat Party bosses were a bit nervous about what today's batch of Sunday newspapers might contain on the Lembit Őpik/Cheeky Girl saga. It is not that they were afraid that some new salacious details may emerge, as far as we are aware there are none, just that newspaper editors and their staff may find a different angle to keep a non-story alive, a further distraction from the party's key messages.

As it happens they need not have worried. A quick scan of the Sunday papers' websites reveals that the fuss is dying down as everybody moves on to deal with some real news. Unfortunately, for the Liberal Democrats that news includes our stagnating poll figures, an issue which I expect the party leadership to make a top priority in the New Year. Having spent 2006 restructuring the internal organisation of the party, Ming now needs to use 2007 to get out of the Westminster bubble and start to put our key messages across to people around the country, as well as to sell himself as an alternative Prime Minister.

I am told that both the Cheeky Girls were in Newtown this week but that may turn out to be just another of those urban myths. After all there is nothing to this effect in the Shropshire Star, whose main take on the story was that members of the public shouted “cheeky cheeky” at Mr Őpik as he walked up Broad Street in the town centre on Friday. This story may be of interest to the public but it is hardly one that impacts on the public interest.

One columnist who disagrees with that assessment is Angharad Mair in today's Wales on Sunday. She takes the view that Lembit's behaviour directly impacts on his position as an MP. She makes it clear that all her sympathies lie with Sian, who she describes as 'articulate, clever, intelligent, very attractive and great fun to be with', whereas Lembit is clearly suffering from 'Christmas madness'. At once we understand that this is an objective assessment in which Angharad's personal feelings towards either party are entrely superfluous to the argument.

Her reasoning though is bizarre in the extreme:

But the big question of course is: Should an MP's personal life really matter?

Is Lembit Opik's private life any business of ours? Does it matter one iota who he "sleeps with naked" and how he prefers to make love.

For me, the answer, undoubtedly and undeniably, is a resounding yes.

Because in this day and celebrity-obsessed age what was once a story for a gossip column in the tabloid press is now mainstream news. Think about it: Lembit hasn't actually done anything wrong.

He wasn't married, this was no sordid affair. He has no children whose lives will suffer as a result of his foolishness.

He certainly hasn't broken the law. But on Sunday night, after the story broke, even the BBC's Welsh news bulletin for S4C 'Newyddion' decided that this was of newsworthy value.

She goes on:

....there it was on the Newyddion - gossip dressed up as hard news.

Proving that an MP's life, public and personal is all important.

Lembit Opik is 41 years old. His new woman is 24. What does that say about him for starters? He is a representative of the people and his judgement should be without question.

So her argument is that because the story is considered to have news value therefore it must be in the public interest to use it. In other words if a story can sell newspapers and attract viewers then it becomes a matter of State and this allows newspaper columnists to pass judgement on issues that have nothing to do with a politician's professional life or their political judgement and on which the politician concerned has never spoken out publicly themselves.

This is an example of a journalist who is so caught up in her own little world that she cannot see the wood for the trees. It is no wonder that some newspapers give more weight to Big Brother than to the slightly less salacious deliberations as to whether Britain should replace its nuclear deterrent.

Of course it is natural that people and newspapers will gossip and even that some voters may allow events such as flirting with a Cheeky Girl to influence their vote one way or another, but that is a matter for them. By all means write about it and give personal views but, unless there are other factors at work, let us not pretend that this sort of tittle tattle is important in any way when it comes to how somebody does their job or how the nation is run.

All well and good Peter, but perhaps if 'sources close to', 'friends of' and 'insiders' hadn't stuck the boot in quite so firmly across a double page spread in the Mail last Friday entitled 'Sian: The Naked Truth', the moral high ground might be more easily occupied by those pleading for Lembit to be left alone to his private life.
I think that you misunderstand where I am coming from here, though I could have been clearer.

I am not pleading for privacy for Lembit, he has made his bed and has to lie in it. My criticism was of the premise that a politician's private life should be critical in assessing how well that person does his or her job. That is nonsense and I suspect that Angharad Mair was only advancing the premise because she has taken sides in this little personal spat between Lembit and Sian.
Oops I accidentally deleted this comment from Dr Christopher Wood:
"I met Sian through Mark Cavendish, Sian’s boyfriend at Cardiff University. Mark and I attended the same science classes and lived in the same Hall of Residence (Talybont) near Maindy in Cardiff. Sian lived in the same place, sharing an apartment with four other female students. Sian was a very caring person who got on with people from all sorts of backgrounds. I was from a working class background, Mark from an upper-crust background. I have very fond memories of Sian inviting me and Mark to sip filtered coffee with cream on top! I remember Sian being very concerned about Mark doing well on his science courses. Unfortunately, Sian was an arts student; I am certain that if she was a science student she would have coached Mark. She was that caring. The person that stands out from my memories of college was that most caring, articulate and personable lady, Sian Lloyd."

I am not taking sides, honest!
Mrs Mair appears to me to be a splendid woman. Should she, in a fit of mental abstraction, choose to throw herself into my arms I should make my best endevours to catch her, even with my bad back. On the other hand should she find she has too little time in her busy schedule to go hurling herself about in my direction this week end and ask Miss Lloyd to step in as first reserve my disappointment would be only marginal. Mr Opik on the other hand seems to choose to discard the one of these magnificent Welsh women and tweak the rather shapely nose of the other in favour of a young lady of somewhat dubious antecedents from a far off land that is even stranger than Wales. Well he's not the first and he will not be the last. The attractions between males and females are unfathomable. I believe that my wife Muriel, another magnificently proportioned Welsh woman, like Mrs Mair and Miss Lloyd, is, in my ipinion, beautiful, again rather like the other two ladies. She has always struck me as the most sensible and level headed of women but for some inexplicable reason, many years ago, she married me and has steadfastly remained married to me ever since, notwithstanding the just causes and impediments I have been throwing up to her in the intervening period. As the poet Byron wrote in Lara, "why did she love him? Curious fool be still. Is human love the growth of human will?"

I am afraid that Mr Opik's curious choice of soulmate is, and will remain, inexplicable. One may speculate that it is rather more carnal than cerebral but one never knows. It says nothing more of him than he is a human being and therefore prone to making mistakes. I bet he makes others.

By the way if either Mrs Mair or Miss lloyd do attempt the throwing into my arms bit you had better warn them that long before they landed Muriel will have disembowelled them. She is singularly possesive.
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