>UK Liberals’ Estonian ‘Cheeky Boy’ may have hidden political depths (honestly)
>I’ve always had a sneaking regard for the Liberal’s Northern Irish-born, Estonian-descended MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales, Lembit Öpik. As well as unusual family and political origins on the Celtic/Baltic fringe and some standard praiseworthy Liberal Democrat concerns with keeping rural post-office open and civil liberties, Öpik combines a eccentric range of personal and political interests: hang-gliding (which nearly finished him off), caravaning (he is a parliamentary consultant to the Caravaning Club of Great Britain), regular appearences on TV chat and talent shows (he plays the harmonica and does a decent stand-up routine) and appeals for increased spending to detect asteroids on catastrophic collision course with the Earth. He also seems to specialize in bringing the political kiss of death to other Lib Dems, having backed alcohol-impaired Liberal leader Charles Kennedy to the last last year as all around were finally giving up (Kennedy resigned) and then backed Lib Dem President Simon Hughes in the race to be his successor (whose chances promply collaped after relevations of hypocritically concealed bi-sexuality – Hughes was first elected to parliament in 1980 in a by-election which saw his Labour opponent subjected to some of the most virulently homophobic campaigning ever seen in Brtitish politics)
Öpik is not really taken seriously by some of the more worthy and staid Liberal Democrats – “Anyone seen an asteroid?” a card carrying Lib Dem academic immediately commented when I mentioned Öpik in his presence last year. However, the piccareque, self-deprecating, media-hogging personality must it seems to me, in part, be cultivated and seems to be to be a potentially valuable political asset. Lib Dem MPs tend to rely on local bases and individual votes far more than those of the two large British parties and a colourful personality can shore this up as surely as grassroots constituency work. Both London Mayor Ken Livingstone and now booze-felled former Liberal leader Charles Kennedy (“Chatshow Charlie” ) built up personal followings that enabled them to outmanoevre duller, more standard politicians in their party establishments by developing the same kind of never-boring “cheeky chappy” image. I’m sure – politically speaking – we really haven’t heard the last of Lembit.