Which Lembit story will you read about today?

by Stephen Tall on July 14, 2008

Will it by any chance be this one on the BBC News website:

Cheeky Girl singer Gabriela Irimia is taking a break from her Lib Dem MP fiance Lembit Opik – but the couple have not split up, her mother says.

Magrit Irimia Scmal says the pair have not spoken for at least two weeks, but denied their engagement was off.

Or will it be this one:

£200m tenant tax is scandalous – Öpik

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that the Government is planning to keep nearly £200m of council tenants’ rent this year.

Every year, the Treasury decides how much local authorities need to spend on new homes and maintaining council houses. Those it deems to take more in rent than they need to spend pay a ‘negative subsidy’ to the Treasury, which is then redistributed to authorities in greater need.

However, this year the Treasury is collecting £195,816,938 more than it is redistributing. This extra money will remain with the exchequer and will not be spent on council housing.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Housing Minister, Lembit Öpik said:

It is scandalous that when council tenants are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, the Government is pocketing £200m of their rent. After the 10p tax debacle, higher road tax on older cars and now a massive tenant tax, it’s clear that this is a Government that is prepared to take from those who can least afford it just to balance its own books. The tax on tenants is preventing councils from investing in their housing stock, and crucially, building new homes for the 1.67 million families on social housing waiting lists. It’s time to scrap the tenant tax.”

Chances are, it’ll be the story about Lembit and Gabi being ‘on a break’. Why? Because it’ll be judged more newsworthy by every single media outlet – including the BBC – than Lembit’s revelation about the Government keeping £200m of council tenants’ rents. Which is the very definition of scandalous.

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One might actually ask: whose fault is that? Could it be that by splashing himself over Hello, parading down the street arm in arm etc etc Lembit has actually courted salacious publicity about his private life and deflected from his spokesperson’s role????!!!!

Perish the thought!!!!

by Paul Walter on July 14, 2008 at 8:13 pm. Reply #

Paul is spot on.. the scandalous part is that Clegg thinks we actually have a housing spokesman in Lembit rather than a complete media joke.

by rob on July 14, 2008 at 8:32 pm. Reply #

Tis sot of thing doesn’t help does it http://www.hellomagazine.com/celebrities/2007/01/17/lembit-opik-sian/
If you court publicity for your relationships, you can’t omplain when you get it.

by Duncan Borrowman on July 14, 2008 at 10:24 pm. Reply #

P.S. My keyboard is being a bit tempremental…

by Duncan Borrowman on July 14, 2008 at 10:27 pm. Reply #

He isn’t helping himself by doing a Living TV special with his girlfriend.

by Alun Williams on July 14, 2008 at 10:35 pm. Reply #


Quite right. Absolutely deplorable.

Any idea what time it’s on?

by Anonymous on July 14, 2008 at 10:39 pm. Reply #

Paul – I don’t disagree that Lembit has been unwise in how he has chosen to court the media. But I don’t see how that absolves reputable news organisations like the BBC from the responsibility of printing news over gossip.

by Stephen Tall on July 14, 2008 at 11:27 pm. Reply #

It was shown last week, and repeated tonight at 8pm apparently.

How vexing!

by Anonymous on July 15, 2008 at 12:42 am. Reply #

At least he’s getting press… which is more than can generally be said for the rest of the party.

Most of the electorate tend to think politicians are all lying weasels and scum bags, yet they’ll happily put faith in celebrities… look at the sheer volume of people who would vote in Big Brother, but not in a general election.

Criticising the first person to get any decent publicity for the party at all since Charlie Kennedy left (ie in the Have I got News for You and other TV stuff he did, before all the stuff right at the end)… well this is exactly the kind of mindsets that send us round in circles never achieving a great deal. If you want the electorate to really take you seriously, a bit of celebrity is not a bad thing.

Given the standard of press releases that I tend to see from LDHQ, I’m of the impression that noone else in the party is capable of courting serious press coverage… and yes, no publicity is a great thing if you want noone to know what you stand for and to always be a really nice, but never electable party (which is the current status quo)

When Labour came to power, they had photos with Spice Girls, the lot. And it worked. Yes, people were ready for change, but the manefesto of change + some celebrity thrown in, does seem to work. Obama, “we can change”: manefesto for change + celebritiy.

I think many people underestimate the impact of postmodernity on the contemporary mindset. Too many of us live in a political bubble, where we loose touch with how voters think. They might moan about Hello magazine, but they secretly would at the very least peek at the pages over somebody’s shoulder and be drawn in by the human interest (even the middle class voters, who pretend not to).

Until someone can find a better way of getting us bigger, better publicity… then I suggest you think about whether what you’re saying is actually constructive. If you can get us that level of publicity and more… then maybe we’ll be able to afford to criticise.

by Miranda on July 15, 2008 at 9:32 am. Reply #

I am told that he was on Big Brother’s Little Brother last night, presumably to discuss this very housing policy.

by Peter Black on July 15, 2008 at 10:25 am. Reply #

Whilst Lembit may enjoy the limelight, he is not personally responsible for the MSM prioritising trash ‘celeb’ stories over serious accounts of government failure.

If there wasn’t a focus on him and the Cheeky Girl, I very much doubt the Treasury story would fill its place. Rather it would be replaced by something about Louise Redknapp being pregnant, and the Treasury story would remain buried.

As even the ‘quality’ papers become trashier by the day (particularly the Indie and Torygraph) it’s occurred to me that perhaps this will become the official function of the MSM (to be populist, unchallenging, commuter-rags – or in the case of the monopolising BBC website, a one-stop lunchtime trivia-scan) and anyone looking for any kind of specialist news or analysis will use smaller sites – and, yes, blogs.

by Julian H on July 15, 2008 at 10:56 am. Reply #

An interesting use of the phrase “decent publicity”. Yes Labour had pictures with the Spice Girls, but nobody suggested Blair was sleeping with Ginger. And of course the number of those celebrities who have now come back and said they were let down by Labour is very large. And there is really no comparison with Charles. People, not party members, have commented to me that it makes them cringe, and they are quite happy to discuss the latest exploits of Rebecca on BB.

by Duncan Borrowman on July 15, 2008 at 11:34 am. Reply #

Todays Indy reports that this former B list celebrity is ‘irked by having to turn up to parties in Mr Opik’s underwhelming Vauxhall Cavalier’. Says it all really.

by boldkevin on July 15, 2008 at 4:15 pm. Reply #

Way back in the mid-80s [1980s – I don’t quite date back to Mr Gladstone’s leadership] I could happily spend an afternoon in my role as Governor at a school for children with special educational needs; and the evening “bashing” Class 40s between Warrington and Chester [don’t ask, but this is big-time anorak / trainspotterish / nerdy].

The odd thing is that the latter didn’t adversely influence the former, nor did my school governorship enhance my anorakdom.

So why not accept the possibility that:

a) a taste for the celebrity lifestyle
b) being an effective constuency MP
and c) being an effective spokesman on a portfolio;

are not mutually exclusive qualities ???

by crewegwyn on July 15, 2008 at 4:39 pm. Reply #

crewegwyn, you’re right of course, they aren’t necessarily exclusive, however there is a serious point about how to use each to complement the others in an appropriate and methodical manner – celebrity for the celebrity’s sake is ultimately vacuuous.

I think the point about the Blair attachment to the spice girls and oasis was that they represented a cultural shift and he wanted to use them to cement the ‘authenticity’ of his appeal with a ‘common touch’.

Lembit may court celebrity, but unceremoniously dumping a weather girl for a more glamourous and younger non-entity speaks volumes about his character. I fear for him in the sense that the publicity he recieves is more akin to tracking prey ahead of the pounce when he is exposed for whatever it will be, rather then for any real political appeal – the press obviously sniff a target, so he better not be hiding any guilty secrets for his and the party’s sake.

by Oranjepan on July 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm. Reply #

Julian H, tracking the evolution of the Telegraph is interesting at the moment, especially now that we seem to have its support for our tax-cutting measures and more generally for our economics expertise.

It reads as though there is a shift back to Morning Post whiggishness there with an underlying scepticism for Camerons competence, so I’d give it the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

by Oranjepan on July 15, 2008 at 6:02 pm. Reply #

“…but unceremoniously dumping a weather girl” – apparently this isn’t really true, and that in fact she did more of the dumping but the tabloids portrayed it as the other way ’round. Might be wrong, but I read that somewhere.

Re: Torygraph – fair point.

by Julian H on July 15, 2008 at 6:07 pm. Reply #

Taking a completely different angle, this is an important issue and surely our press office should have realised that putting this out under the name of Lembit would result in instant vertical filing.

What they should have done is put this out as a financial story under the Vince Cable banner, then we would have got coverage for this and for Lembit’s antics as well.

by Martin Land on July 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm. Reply #

Stephen, you are, of course right, in that the second story is more important than the first.

However, if the media is your target, your example is a poor one, as Lembit has hardly been a media-shy wallflower and has only brought this on himself.

Time for a chat with HQ methinks.

by Guest Speaker on July 15, 2008 at 11:35 pm. Reply #

Sadly, I think that this story says as much about Lembit and his reputation as it does about the media.

by simon wilson on July 16, 2008 at 9:44 am. Reply #

Interestingly nobody has commented about the Guardian story on housing today (p11). Perhaps because it doesn’t fit the underlying prejudice of the thread ….

Quotes from Government minister, Local government network (ex-labour MP), House Builders Federation, Shelter and … oh yes Lembit Opik LIb Dem Housing Spokesman. Not a Tory in sight ……….

by David on July 17, 2008 at 10:32 am. Reply #

Or maybe it is because it is on p11 of the Guardian rather plastered over the papers most people read.

by Duncan Borrowman on July 17, 2008 at 10:51 am. Reply #

‘Quotes from Government minister, Local government network (ex-labour MP), House Builders Federation, Shelter and … oh yes Lembit Opik LIb Dem Housing Spokesman. Not a Tory in sight ……….’

It is just a shame that Lembit’s comment was so clichéd and lame. Shared ownership housing is not an answer to affordability as by and large they are not affordable.

by Peter Black on July 17, 2008 at 6:40 pm. Reply #

So many people obsessed with Lembit!!!

by Jo on July 17, 2008 at 9:07 pm. Reply #

Well Jo
I’m not sure why they are obsessed by Lembit Like him or hate him he has always made a splash even before Gabby, and whatever happens i suspect he always will. He has certainly made mistakes with the media but he has also got the media to notice the party.

Would the report been in the paper with someone else’s name i suspect not, we have never found it easy to get in the papers no matter what we have said or have you all forgotten that?

i will tell you this though i have spent time with Lembit and where ever you go with him People always want to talk and listen to him, and that goes for MP’s in other parties too. We have only a hand full of MP’s that can do that as well as him.

so what if he isn’t the standard MP, not so sure the public like standard MP’s anyway.

Yes i know he has made bad personal relationship judgement calls, He knows this, but he doesn’t do it on purpose you know. the real worry i guess is that by association it will damage the party.

Well do voters say i not voting Lib Dem because of him, Never heard that on the doorstep have you?

Of course some will be effected by the media attention but he is not that famous you know and I suspect we worry about it far more then voters do.

by Phil Hutty on July 18, 2008 at 12:09 am. Reply #

Lembit for London Mayor? or for Speaker of HoC?

by Oranjepan on July 18, 2008 at 3:27 am. Reply #

Pity that this important issue didn’t merit inclusion in Lib Dem News.

by simon wilson on July 18, 2008 at 12:59 pm. Reply #

I agree with Martin Land, this is an important issue and should have been put out by a politician with more gravitas. Lembit, bless im, has become a self-parody. One of those wacky eccentric types. That is fine if he wants to do that.

by Spanny Thomas on July 20, 2008 at 9:42 am. Reply #

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