Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Lembit Opik’

Don Foster’s Twit of the Year

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th November, 2012

Don Foster has long been one of the most entertaining Liberal Democrat public speakers and since becoming a government Minister he has not lost his touch. Last evening he addressed the AGM of Kingston Liberal Democrats at Kingston Rugby Club, only occasionally letting his eye wander to the screen at the end of the room that was showing (silently) a match with his home team Bath playing. For two years he was at the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, thus enjoying a grandstand view of this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics. But in the recent reshuffle Don was moved to the Department for Communities and Local Government, under (fortunately not literally) Eric Pickles. As Don said last night, it has been a steep learning curve but he is a committed believer in local government. However, much of his speech was an amusing take on this week’s Away Day of LibDem parliamentarians at an anonymous hotel. After all the pep talks there was some light-hearted banter about some of the tweets LibDem MPs have posted, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, as our elected representatives show widely varying talents in the medium. The Twit of the Year, in Don’s view, was clearly the Chief Whip, Alistair Carmichael, who hit the jackpot with his tweet: “Nadine Dorries, I served with Lembit Opik, I knew Lembit Opik. Let me tell you, Nadine Dorries, you are no Lembit Opik.”

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London Mayoral Candidates’s Balls-skill Tested

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st July, 2011

Brent Liberal Democrats were blessed with fine weather at their annual summer garden party this afternoon, but also with the presence of all four potential London Mayoral candidates, who were strutting their stuff, as they have been doing valiantly around the region for the past couple of weeks. There was an unusual twist to this informal hustings, as they first had to compete in a game of bowls on hostess Freda Reingold’s lawn; this will of course have no effect on the outcome of the selection, but was a nice, light-hearted novelty. Brian Haley stormed to victory, with a throw that was almost up to the little black ball. But who among the four — the others being Lembit Opik, Brian Paddick and Mike Tuffrey– will win the members’ vote is anybody’s guess. Ballot papers (which have been sent to all London party members of sufficient vintage) have to be returned to the Electoral Reform Services by 31 August and the result should be known on 2 September.


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The London Mayoral Merry-go-round

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th July, 2011

Voting has now started in the Liberal Democrats’ selection of a Mayoral candidate to fight next May’s London elections. Ballot papers have gone out to all London party members of more than one year’s standing and they have until 31 August to return them to Electoral Reform Services. There are four candidates in the field: Brian Haley, Lembit Opik, Brian Paddick and Mike Tuffrey — four very diferent characters with diverse experience. There will be one official hustings, which I will be chairing, on 27 July at 7pm at Hamilton House in Camden. But with the contest occurring during summer, there is a whole range of local party events for the four men to parade their policies and meet with the selectorate. On Friday Julie Horton and Phil Middleton of Islington LibDems hosted a particularly well-attended garden party at their home in Highbury Hill, with all four candidates present — and I suspect I will be running across most of them again this afternoon at the Croydon Libdems’ annual garden party near Sanderstead. I trust that all will also put in time at the St Peter’s ward local by-election in Islington — a seat held by LibDems until 2006.


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Mark Williams Speaks up for the Baha’i

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd March, 2011

One of the more exotic consequences of Lembit Opik’s failing to retain Montgomery at last year’s general election was that the Baha’i Community in the United Kingdom lost an entertaining compere for their annual Naw Ruz (‘New Day’, i.e. Spring) reception on the House of Commons terrace. Lembit was an active champion of the cause of the Baha’i, who continue to suffer terrible persecution in Iran. Last night, this year’s reception was instead hosted by the Ceredigion LibDem MP Mark Williams, who gave apologies from veteran human rights campaigner Lord Avebury (aka Eric Lubbock) and reminded everyone that even at this time of celebration of the new awakening of Spring — marked by the Zoroastrians as well as the Baha’i, and various ethnic groups such as the Kurds — there was a sombre undertone, namely the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran for the simple reason that they were serving the religious and social needs of their beleagured community. Iran’s Islamic religious leaders despise the Baha’i because the Baha’i see spiritual truth in many places and acknowledge the contribution of prophets and visionaries of various faiths. But their central message is one of peace and community, which makes their suppression all the more outrageous.


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Lembit Opik, Ridvan and the Baha’i

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd April, 2009

abdul-baha2lembit-opikLembit Opik MP hosted the annual All Party Group for the Baha’i’s reception on the terrace of the House of Commons this evening, timed to coincide with the Baha’i festival of Ridvan. If the celebrations were somewhat subdued for many people present, it was because seven leading Baha’i figures who were arrested in Iran last year are still in prison. The faith, which is monotheistic and teaches that all religions come from God, was founded in the 19th Century in Iran, though its most famous contemporary religious centre is in Haifa, Israel. It has suffered systematic persecution in Iran since shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Bill Rammell, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, gave a speech of welcome and there were written greetings from a  curious trinity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. In his capacity as Chairman of the All Party Group, Lembit quipped that he was too wicked to become a Baha’i himself. Wicked? Surely not, Lembit. Just naughty.


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Lloyd George Society Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd February, 2009

david-lloyd-george    For over 50 years, the Lloyd George Society or previously the Welsh Liberal Party have held annual residential weekend schools, originally intended for Welsh Liberal parliamentary candidates to bone up on party policy, though these days they are opened up to a wider group of the faithful, to discuss topical political issues and to socialise. It must be over 20 years since I was last at one, but I had been invited back this weekend to give a presentation on ‘Europe, the United States and the Obama Effect’. Because of a diary clash with the London LibDem election training day on Saturday, I wasn’t able to travel up to Llandrindod Wells (via Crewe and Shreswbury) until yesterday afternoon, arriving just in time for a Welsh lamb dinner at which the speaker was Chris Huhne. He pointed out that (Baron) Emlyn Hooson, who was also sitting at the top table, was one of only six Liberal MPs back in 1970 — quite a different matter from the 63 returned in 2005. Moreover, Chris was upbeat about the chances of LibDem MPs who have small majorities over the Conservatives (including himself) holding their seats at the next general election, as studies show that the incumbency factor works well for LibDems. And he was confident we would pick up a swath of new seats from Labour, as their support continues to crumble.

This morning, in the graveyard slot after breakfast, as well as giving a tour d’horizon of European and US relations within the new world order, I focussed on positive lessons we in Britain can learn from the Obama campaign. Firstly clear messages, simply put (in the Euro-elections concentrating particularly on the economy, the environment and crime/civil liberties); outreach to specific groups, such as students and resident citizens of other EU countries; and utilising new technologies (e-campaining etc). The morning was rounded off with a question time panel including the Number 1 on the Welsh Euro-list, Alan Butt-Philip, Lord (Martin) Thomas, Baroness (Celia) Thomas (no relation) and the inimitable Lembit Opik, MP, who was in combative form, not least on the subject of tabloid journalists.


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Why I Have Voted for Ros Scott

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th October, 2008

The manifestos and ballot paper for the LibDem presidential election arrived this morning and in my case, the latter has already been filled in and sent off. I gave (Baroness) Ros Scott my first preference, as I had declared I would do, as I think she has both the proven single-minded dedication and the calm, even reassuring disposition that the party President will need over the crucial next couple of years. These will see both a set of European elections (where we ought to increase our number of MEPs, providing the campaign is given the focus and resources that it needs) and a crucial general election (that could either be a breakthrough or a fall-back for the Liberal Democrats, depending on how things go). We need a sound person in the presidency, who can improve party management and enthuse the membership, but not one who is going to draw too much attention away from the leader, who must be the figurehead of the political campaigns.

I have known both Ros and Lembit Opik for nearly 20 years, meeting both of them shortly after they became involved in the party. When Lembit first stood for the Federal Executive many years ago, I was happy to enthusiastically endorse him as having ‘vim and verve’ to contribute to that body.That is still true. He is an immensely likeable character and he has had an exemplary attendance record on the Executive. His celebrity status and knack of attracting publicity (not all of it positive, of course) are certainly assets from which both the party and he as an individual can benefit, though in a world of cruel media, these things also have the potential to be a liability. The party celebrates our individualist MPs — think Clement Freud and Cyril Smith — but would I have wanted either to be party president at a time like this? Humm. Both, interestingly, got a knighthood instead, so maybe we will have Lembit deservedly down on one knee in front of the Queen one day.

Chandila Fernando was a surprise late entrant into the race, but it is clear from his manifesto that he has some interesting, even provocative, views about party management and focus, which I hope will be considered seriously. We should all welcome that debate. He is a bright and ambitious young man whom I have got to know over the past two years and by putting his head above the parapet he has clearly put down a marker, even if at the moment I am not quite sure what for!

Whoever wins, of course the party must rally behind them and I will do so happily. This is an important contest at a particularly important time in British politics, so I hope not only will party members ensure that they use their vote, but that they give the matter due consideration before they do.

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Lembit Woos Loughton

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th October, 2008

  My zone 1-6 Oyster card took me to Debden this evening, where Epping Forest Liberal Democrats hosted a pizza and politics addressed by Lembit Opik, MP, who is on the party presidential campaign trail, but also being motivational — or inspirational, as he put it. He had Stephen Kearney, our candidate in the recent Henley by-election, with him and their joint message was about reaching out to people in local communities, listening and using language that they can understand. Inevitably, media issues came up — no, Lembit is not going into the Big Brother house in January, as the Sun confidently reported — but Lembit maintained that celebrity can be useful in opening up channels of communication with people who are usually switched off from politics and politicians. Of course, George Galloway said the same thing, though he DID make the mistake of going on Big Brother.

Lembit argued that the next President — whether it is him, Ros Scott or Chandila Fernando — should not be concerned with policy matters, which should be the province of the Leader. But there were appreciative rumbles round the room when he indicated that he would like to rattle the bars at the Cowley Street party HQ sometimes. He also championed the value of fun — which I suspect may prove to be either his making or his undoing.

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Ros Scott Woos Hammersmith

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th June, 2008

Nominations for the presidency of the Liberal Democrats aren’t due until the autumn, but already two likely contenders, Lembit Opik MP and Baroness (Ros) Scott, have been criss-crossing the country on the rubber chicken circuit. Not that many local parties offer such unpalatable fare at their social and fundraising functions these days. The BBQ put on by the Hammersmith and Fulham party last night was much more upmarket. Ros Scott was the guest of honour there and spoke about her work in the House of Lords, whose latest task had been to ratify the Lisbon Treaty ahead of the European Summit. Like many of her LibDem colleagues, Ros believes the Upper House ought to be elected, but given the system we are lumbered with, we have to go along with it until reforms take place. As reforms have been talked about since 1906, goodness knows when that might happen.

It will be interesting to see how the presidential contest goes, once the candidates are able formally to announce their status. Though Lembit has by far the higher public profile, that may not necessarily work in his favour, given the nature of some of his celebrity limelight. Certainly, within his own, largely non-conformist Montgomery constituency, there are those who think he would be better advised to spend more time and energy making sure he holds on to his parliamentary seat.

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