Tag Archives: lembit-opik

Will Lembit have me arrested?

I’ve just updated Prawn Free Lembit with Mr Opik’s latest column from the Daily Sport and it has put me in a bit of a quandary.

You see, by posting that column, I’m breaching copyright. I’m a pretty good boy when it comes to copyright violation generally – unusually for my generation even where music is concerned – but I set up Prawn Free Lembit because I thought these columns ought to see the light of day outside of the confines of a porn-infested and frankly medieval website that doesn’t even have RSS feeds. He’s an elected politician and I think we all have a right to know what he has to say without having degrading images of women shoved in our faces, don’t you think? I don’t editorialise and let Lembit speaks for himself. If it leads to people asking awkward questions about why a man in his forties who owns a pair of trousers would spend a significant part of his working week perving about which “Sport Stunna” he’d like to “elevate” to “high office” (f’narr!), then that’s on him.

However noble my intentions may have been however, it is clear that Lembit has a very black and white view of the matter. Breach of copyright is “theft”, pure and simple. He has lent his support to Peter Mandelson’s plan to cut off people who are caught filesharing illegally and presumably the rozzers will be knocking on my door any minute.

The arguments about why Mandelson’s plans are utterly bogus have been well rehearsed. While I wouldn’t go quite as far as those who favour legalising peer-to-peer filesharing in all circumstances, the government’s disconnection plans would punish the innocent, be impractical in practice and fundamentally miss the point.

The music industry is in the mess that it is in for a very simple reason. It has filched the public and recording artists for decades. This was possible to get away with 20 years ago because technology and IP laws made it easy for them. As a result they could live it large, ply their musicians and useful dupes with drugs and alcohol and indulge their megastars. When the internet came along, instead of waking up to its potential threat to them and adapting, they pretended it didn’t exist for decades. The result was utter contempt by the general public which fuelled the rise of peer-to-peer once the technology came up to speed.

The death of the music industry – which is a real possibility – will not mean the death of music. Music existed before copyright laws and it will exist long after them as well. People won’t suddenly stop making music. What it will probably mean is the death of the superstar. Your online music store will resemble a public library more than HMV. Instead of having a middle man around who decides what music is worth listening to and what category it should be wedged into, we’ll be able to choose from a much wider source. Technology will (has) made garage bands sound as professional as the big labels and marketing costs have levelled out. The Simon Cowells of this world are utterly fucked, which is why his himself has already jumped ship and moved onto TV – and even then the X-Factor band wagon won’t keep rolling forever.

Will it be possible to make money as a musician in the future? It all depends on what your aspirations are. Any halfway successful musician will be able to make several multiples of what I’ll earn in my lifetime, but there’ll be a lot fewer multi-millionaires. You probably won’t ever get that private jet I’m afraid. The simple fact are only so many punters out there and talent is nothing like as hard to come by as Smash Hits and NME led us to believe. They lied.

But is rendering musician to the status of mere vocation such a terrible thing? Money has destroyed so many talents over the years that it is hard to shed a tear for the decline of the superstar. Is it really so wonderful that popular music has become so strongly associated with excess, mental illness, vanity, self-abasement and violence? More musicians earning less money is a scenario in which 99% of us win. It is no coincidence that Wilkinson and Pickett considered a move towards less restrictive IP laws as a crucial step towards engendering a more equal culture in The Spirit Level.

The reason I suspect Lembit does not see it that way is that it is not music he is really defending but the industry which he has courted and been courted by (and indeed courted within) for the past decade.

Oh, and as I have thus far forgotten to post the latest edition of The Show, courtesy of EyeSeeSound.tv, allow me to do so here. It’s the future!

A Lembit Blog! Of sorts.

Thanks to the diligent detective work of Costigan Quist (something which perhaps we should draw a veil over), I can reveal that Lembit’s Daily Sport columns are now available online (Warning: NSFW).

So, given my call for him to have a blog, is this mission accomplished? Well, the very fact that I have to label it NSFW suggests that there is more work to do (if I never have to look at Jo Guest’s starry chuff hole ever again it will be too soon), and it would be nice if he didn’t have to bang on about the Daily Sports’ ‘babes’ in every other sentence. Frankly, I’m a bit sceptical that the hairy-of-palm need politicians to connect with them. They seem to be more than adequately represented on the benches of both Houses of Parliament already in my experience.

Still, at least we can now read the column now. The fact that it doesn’t include even the basics such as an RSS feed suggests that the cash-strapped Daily Sport may not be around much longer.

The Lib Dems don’t need a blogging strategy. They need a Lembit strategy

Alex Singleton has written a wonderfully charmless little attack post on about the state of Lib Dem blogosphere (it is always nice to find an article like this has been written by someone I have already dismissed as an idiot).

Leaving aside the usual crap about the Lib Dems not standing for anything (bizarrely, he seems to think that Cameron’s Conservatives are a good example of a consistent party – clearly he has never read ConHome – in particular he clearly hasn’t read this article about the Tory’s own internet fail), one can marvel at the sheer ignorance about the subject matter in question. Describing Lib Dem Voice and Lib Dem Blogs as “rivals” is simply gigglesome. It is as if he has never come across the idea of an aggregator before (let alone the fact that Ryan Cullen is in fact the sinister puppetmaster pulling the strings behind the scenes of both websites). He cites Guido Fawkes for attacking Labour’s blog activities, yet seems to fundamentally misunderstand Paul’s real complaint. As I understand it (and I did speak to him on the topic last week), the Guido analysis is that any blogging strategy is fundamentally a waste of time because it will only reach out to the usual suspects.

I broadly agree with that, which is why I’ve never really gone in for this whole puffing about the party via my blog thing. This blog is a way for me to develop my thoughts, to mouth off and to relieve tension (a bit like wanking). Engaging in a dialogue with similarly interested individuals is a plus. Proselytising isn’t even on the radar.

There are good examples of blogging to the unconverted, but you won’t find them at the “top” of the blogosphere but rather in the long tail. Take Mary Reid for example. A great community blog with crossover appeal between political hacks and Kingston upon Thames residents. Mary’s blog works in that way because Mary gets that engagement is about more than blogging – she’s one of the party’s (indeed the UK’s) leading e-mancipators. But you won’t see her at the top of the Wikio rankings or the Total Politics league table any time soon – to do that she would have to make compromises, talking to the political hardcore at the expense of local residents. That would lead her to disengage and ultimately be self-defeating. But Alex Singleton would of course approve.

Generally speaking it is fascinating how journalists consistently fail to “get” the internet, even at its most basic. A couple of weeks ago, a PR Week journalist by the name of David Singleton (coincidence?) reported that the Lib Dems are going to hold a “bloggers’ summit” at Cowley Street on 28 March. Not so – the party is holding a coders’ summit, a far more productive exercise. And of course, there is this incessant and persistant attack on Twitter – which sounds remarkably similar in tone to the incessant and persistant attack by the mainstream media on blogging before every journo and his/her dog started blogging. The phenomenon of mainstream journalists confusing the medium for the message is one of the great mysteries of the age (perhaps it is something Charlie Brooker should investigate on his new Newswipe series).

Are the Lib Dems getting everything right with their internet strategy? Of course not. I would suggest the following:

  • The party doesn’t send out anything like enough emails and the emails it does send tend to be a bit haphazzard. I’m a bit of a social bookmarking evangelist myself, but even I would question the point in encouraging everyone on our email list to help promote the latest Nick Clegg video via Digg. By all means put Digg buttons everywhere, but every second you spend explaining it to the general public is a second you should be communicating the party’s vision and policies.
  • Every party campaign and initiative should be focussed around collecting email addresses (legally of course). Never mind Digg, we should be letting individuals forward information about our campaigns to their address books in a way that is now old hat on sites such as Avaaz.
  • With the Liberal Youth currently mid-nervous breakdown, it is time for the party to make a strategic decision about how it intends to communicate with young people. For years now, it has tended to be left for the youth wing to organise. That was fine when they were the innovators (launching scraptuitionfees.com for instance), but they’ve been bungling it for years now. Following on from Alix Mortimer’s seminal piece last week, it is probably time a group of 20-30 somethings got together and had a serious chat about an alternative that isn’t modelled around a quaint 19th century private members club but rather is a serious attempt to create a liberal grassroots movement that is has strong ties to, but ultimately independent of, the Lib Dems.

Finally, if there is to be a Lib Dem blogging strategy, then the thing it should be focussed around is building up our existing personalities’ web presence. At the start of this year, I avowed a wish to see Lembit Opik start blogging. I’m serious. Lembit’s claim that turning up on light entertainment programmes (catch him tonight on Ant and Dec) helps him reach out to people the rest of the party doesn’t reach is a perfectly sound argument but is poorly executed. Imagine what a plus it would be if he gave people who had seen him on these programmes a place to go; a website which bridged his particular obsession with celebrity and politics? Sadly, he is so steeped in denial that he will no doubt assume this constructive criticism is yet another “pernicious” attack on him.

To a degree, the same could be said about Vince, although his particular brand of personality lends itself better to helping to promote the party. But if you think the party’s success is dependent on having yet another blog to feed the obsessives, you are so wrong you ought to begin a career as a Telegraph journalist.

Nine wishes for 2009 #1: Lembit Opik to prove me wrong

Partly, admittedly, because I set up a Google Alert of his name earlier this year during the Presidential election, Lembit Opik never stops getting in my face. His latest interview was in Wales On Sunday yesterday (odd since just a week ago Lembit was dismissing the same paper as “poor use of [his] time“). Regarding the presidential election, to the surprise of no-one, he is utterly unrepentent:

“I’ve been thinking about why the party establishment did not support me for the presidency. I put forward a new agenda, painting politics in primary colours, and perhaps they’re just not ready for it.

“I do politics in quite a distinctive way, and maybe they’re not comfortable with that kind of approach.

“I want us to be a party where we can express a strong corporate personality and strong individual personalities.

“Perhaps I frighten the horses, but the point is that, if you don’t, you’ll never create a political stampede.

“I do my best to reach out to the kind of people who don’t watch Question Time and Newsnight, and I think it would help politics if more politicians did so.”

But it wasn’t just the party establishment that didn’t support Lembit – it was 70+% of the party. Chris Huhne wasn’t supported by the establishment in either leadership contest he stood in, yet managed to leapfrog Simon Hughes in the first and came within 500 votes of winning the second. Are we all supposed to be mindless automatons?

What genuinely perplexes me about all this is that if Lembit could point to a single tangible fact which proved his hypothesis that appearing on Have I Got News For You was actually beneficial to the party, much of the criticism would be muted. The counter hypothesis is that a) most of the programmes he appears on either ignore politics altogether or advance an anti-politics agenda which Lembit himself does nothing to address and that b) while no-one can dispute the rise of Boris “LOL!!1!! LOOK AT HIS FUNNEE HAIR!!?!!” Johnson, Johnson never went within a million miles of half the paper-bag-opening-level programmes that are Lembit’s meat and drink and, frankly, when it comes to personality, Lembit is no Bozza. Have you ever seen a more polite, well-spoken individual on HIGNFY, Big Brother’s Little Brother or Celebrity Apprentice? The fundamental problem with Lembit’s celebrity appearances is that he doesn’t even make the most of them. In that respect, those who compare him to the Cyril Smiths and Clement Freuds of the past are missing the point.

But go on Lembit, prove me wrong in 2009. It is put up or shut up time. Because I can see how his grand master plan might work, I just don’t see it actually working.

If he is to do that however, he will have to embrace technology – something he has thus far managed to avoid in the way that 8 year old boys avoid baths. Oh, he bragged about his supporters on Facebook, many of whom appeared to be of the “LOL!!!1! LOOK AT HIS WONKEE CHIN!!!?!?!” variety, but that is a dead giveaway of someone who just doesn’t get technology. He doesn’t even have a website, or rather, he has *snigger* an ePolitix one, which is almost even worse. Even his Daily Sport column isn’t published online. So where do all these people who see Lembit on the television have to go? If they Google him, they’ll find a Wikipedia Page, a bland profile on the official party website, his defunct Presidential campaign website and a couple of videos. After that, it’s girls of a weathered and Cheeky variety all the way down. Lembit’s online “narrative” is written almost entirely by other people.

Iain Dale boasted 65,000 absolute unique visitors in November and 578,000 unique visitors in 2008. Given that only a fraction of Daily Sport readers will read Lembit’s column whereas almost all of Dale’s visitors are there because they want to be, those are figures that should give him pause for thought. If Lembit’s media appearances really do help him to reach out to people who would otherwise be unengaged, then he ought to be able to match and even beat Iain Dale’s readership in very little time at all.

It isn’t as if his target audience are somehow not online. Indeed, the people who Lembit claims to be reaching out to are over-represented on the web.

So what I’d really like to see in 2009 is a Lembit Opik blog to put us all in our places. If Lembit is right, then such a blog would climb to prominence quite quickly. What’s more, it would bridge the gap between the programmes he appears on and his politics. He’d win, his critics would be proven wrong but wouldn’t mind and the party would gain a major new asset. So how about it?

Lembit Opik: real men hate women

I wasn’t going to blog about Lembit’s new column (fnarr! fnarr! snork!) – I figure I’ve fulfilled my quota of Lembit bashing for the year. But then he went and said something stupid:

“This is part of my own stated objective to reach beyond the normal political limits to people who may not be particularly interested in Parliament, but will find it interesting if the info is presented in a non-pompous or technical way.

“That’s my goal, and I hope anyone who values the benefit of a politically informed society will agree with this approach.

“It’s politics for real people, and, thanks to the Sport, I’m glad to have the opportunity.”

How does one define “real”? If by “real” you mean people who aren’t obsessed by politics, fair enough, but that doesn’t make Daily Sport readers “real” by definition. The Sport has 80,000 readers. That’s less than half the readers of the worst selling UK “quality” (I would demur from this description) daily, The Independent. If he was claiming to be reaching out to people that mainstream politics usually ignores, that is true as far as it goes. But suggesting they are ordinary and typical of the man in the street is not merely factually wrong, it is demeaning to the typical man in the street.

Whichever way you dress it up though, the Daily Sport is misogyny. We can argue about whether porn can be empowering or not until the cows come home, but there is no fuzzy grey area where the Sport, Nuts and Zoo are concerned. The days when it used to get away with presenting itself as a UK version of the National Enquirer (double decker found on the moon!) are long gone. I wouldn’t ban it, or even insist it is on the top shelf, but letting it crawl into a corner and die would be a thoroughly good thing for society. Is Lembit going to challenge that misogyny or just go along with it? We shall see.

One of the things I find remarkable about all this is how even criticising the Sport and other soft porn titles as sexist has somehow become socially unacceptable. The debate on Lib Dem Voice skirted around the issue (I have to admit to failing to get my outrage on there), merely focusing on whether Lembit’s decision to do this would do the party more harm than good. The argument – from Julian H, Iain Coleman and others – went that, so long as it didn’t actually harm the party electorally, and potentially reached out to new voters, it was unimpeachable.

I can’t help but suspect this phenomena is all too closely related to Emily Benn’s avowed post-feminism. Lembit, lest we forget, is Liberal Vision’s “most liberal MP” – liberalism, we are to believe, is now to be graded according to which Early Day Motions you have signed. If British liberalism really has become so timid and self-conscious that it feels it cannot even criticise (as distinct from ban) the illiberal, then it is lost.

Who will be the next Welsh Lib Dem Leader?

I’ve written another Comment is Free article on this very subject:

Make no mistake: this election is no shoo-in for either candidate. They are both extremely strong contenders. At its heart, it has become quickly apparent that this election, more than any other in recent years, is going to be about what the Liberal Democrats are for. This isn’t merely a question of policy; it is a question about where the party strikes the balance between gaining power to change things and standing firm in its beliefs with a view to inspiring the electorate. There is real merit in both points of view and it is a question that, with a hung parliament still a possibility, the Lib Dems may yet end up have to answer at a UK level.

Ros Scott: it wos the internet wot won it

I was rather irritated this morning to read this article on the Guardian website which, apart from ignoring whole aspects of the internet campaigning (about which I may blog later, but may not), included this sentence:

A more colourful Lib Dem, Lembit Opik, has been using Facebook in his bid for the party leadership.

Even leaving aside the fact that Lembit was standing for president, not leader, to even think of writing that sentence exposes you as a hack journalist who doesn’t really know what he is talking about. Because in this election, as with the Obama triumph, Facebook was a mere sideshow. The interesting stuff was what was happening elsewhere.

Lembit was not the Lib Dems’ answer to Barack Obama; in terms of campaigning style, Ros was. To go from nowhere to 72% of the vote is a victory earned only by reaching out to the grassroots and achieving what Obama achieved: killer word of mouth. In the final stages, Lembit liked to present himself as the anti-establishment candidate but as a Vice President, former front bencher and former Welsh leader, he was anything but: he was our Hillary. Ros only became the establishment’s chosen one because she had demonstrated skills during the campaign that the party’s establishment valued.

But it isn’t really fair to call Ros our Obama. No disrespect to her, but that comparison does not flatter her. But she may yet turn out to be our Howard Dean. Dean, if you recall, was briefly the grassroots-de-jeur during the 2004 primaries. He didn’t win, but he did go one to become the Chair of the Democratic National Congress, roughly equivalent to our own President. His understanding of Politics 2.0 was crucial to Obama’s success (not to mention 2006’s midterms); we can only hope that Ros will prove to be as much of a visionary in her new post.

This is the first Lib Dem election where the internet has played a crucial role in deciding the result, although it came pretty close in last year’s leadership contest. The world of political campaigning has changed; we need to respond to it.

Lemby’s answers: the final salvo

One of the things about blogging that a lot of people just don’t seem to get is that the act has a tendency of heightening the author’s personality. I’ve probably written this before but a colleague of mine likes to relate how a Lib Dem activist came up to him once and said “You know James Graham? He’s a very angry man!” which didn’t accord with my colleague’s image of me as a cool, collected and reasonable person at all (what? Don’t laugh!). A lot of people who come across as quite extreme, uncompromising people are pussy cats in reality (in one of two cases I really hope that’s true anyway). It is therapeutic – a way of getting your frustrations out without leaving casualties.

What’s more, this heightening can act a tool for self-analysis at times. One such example of this is this blog’s continual return to the subject of Lembit Opik’s candidacy for President specifically and the work of the Lib Dem Federal Executive more generally.

The calm, collected person I am day-to-day knows this election doesn’t matter especially, has put his three years on the FE – an experience remarkably similar to headbutting a brick wall (imagine sticking with it for 17 years? Sheesh!) – behind him and believes that the real reforms that party needs to take will only ever happen by innovators and entrepreneurs working on the outside and influencing the party positively, not by getting elected onto an effing talking shop.

My reason for supporting Ros Scott is entirely related to that: I am content with the fact that of the three candidates she is promising the least. What she represents is not someone who is itching to leap onto the levers of power and to start “sorting things out” but rather someone who understands soft power, the power of narrative in political campaigning and the potential of new media. In some ways a victim of her own success, she is often described as the “establishment” candidate. Yet in a quiet way, she is far more subversive than either of her opponents could dream of being. If either of them had run their campaigns with even a tenth of her panache, I might have had a hard time deciding who to support. As it stands it is a done deal.

But for the angry, Mr Hyde of my personality, that is not enough. I can’t simply be pro-Ros – I have to be anti-Lembit (and to a lesser extent, anti-Chandila). I’ve broadly come to terms with this fact, but even then I felt the need to keep the animal caged for much of last week. I had a paper to write and the constant Lembit ravings in light of his bizarre claims to be a victim of a “conspiracy of mediocrity” were proving to be a distraction. Nonetheless, I’ve written that now and my response to Lembit’s answers to my questions is long overdue.

This has been complicated by Lembit’s extraordinary mea culpa (sort of) at the end of last week. What am I to make of that?

The first thing both this article and Linda Jack’s “tough questions” article raise is this debate over Lembit’s TV appearances. A lot of this is clever framing. By maintaining that 90% of the criticisms aimed at him are about this, and by restricting his participation in the debate to arenas where he can engage on his terms, he can make his opponents look irrational and conservative.

Personally speaking, while I have occasionally found his appearances on these shows grating, they don’t bother me too much. I don’t think they do the party or his personal standing any harm. I just don’t believe they do either of them any good either. If the only “problem” was that he appears on the telly, it wouldn’t be an issue.

No, although I’ve occasionally touched on this aspect of Lembit’s personality, my personal concerns have always been much more fundamental. At the start of the election I asked four key questions. Looking back at them, they aren’t the only questions I might have asked and some are weaker than others, but given the Herculean task in getting Lembit to address even these, I didn’t fancy my chances going any further. If you scroll down to the bottom of Linda’s article you can find these answers though, so here are my responses:

QUESTION: Since Lembit claims to have such great campaigning and communications skills, why have the Liberal Democrats in Wales stagnated in the last two assembly elections (sticking with six AMs in 1999, 2003 and 2007)?

ANSWER: No, the demarcation between the MPs and AMs in terms of leading the various election campaigns has been very clear in Wales since the Assembly was set up. In the Parliamentary General Election for which I WAS responsible as Leader, we doubled our seats from two to four. That was the result of superb local campaigns and I applaud what was achieved. A 100% increase doesn’t really qualify as stagnation, especially when the UK overall increase for the Party was only a fraction of this.

This is by far the weakest answer. If there is a clear demarcation between who leads the various campaigns it is neither spelt out in the Welsh Lib Dems’ manifesto (the pre-Autumn 2008 version of which I was reading this evening), nor does it appear to have worked at all well. Lembit wasn’t the leader of the Parliamentary Party – he was the leader of the whole party. If anyone is responsible for this “demarcation” it is him. And since the result was stagnation in the Assembly while gains were sustained in Parliament, it was clearly the wrong approach. None of this suggests a man who is capable of cutting through the bureaucracy and territorial warfare that a decent president must negotiate. Defending the siloisation of campaigning? At least it’s a first!

Nor can he really claim much credit for our Westminster gains. Cardiff Central was won off the back of the Assembly seat, which Lembit himself denies any responsibility over. Ceredigion was a campaign hard won over many years, the breakthrough being the 2000 by-election. As leader, his influence was far less than the local teams and campaigns professionals on the ground and the national leader and press professionals running the air war. Finally, doubling the number of seats was a fine achievement, but was only achieved in areas where we have been traditionally weaker. We doubled our MPs in the North West from 3 to 6 for instance, but didn’t need a special North West leader to deliver it.

QUESTION: Given the deep problems at the heart of the Kennedy leadership, wasn’t it an error of judgment to stand by him? Loyalty is easy – a nodding dog at the back of a car can do it. Don’t the “rebels” – including Nick Clegg and Vince Cable – deserve credit for taking a difficult decision that Lembit lacked the resolve to take?

Linda completely changes this question to:

Do you think it was an error of judgement to support Charles?

To which Lembit’s answer is:

ANSWER: No. I will never regret supporting Charles Kennedy when he was attacked for his drinking. I do regret to this day the way he was made to resign by the action of colleagues. In my view, we should have worked with him and supported him, especially given his candid and honest statements about it at that time. I judge people by results, and Charles delivered the best results we’d had for 8 decades, and had tremendous popularity. Had Charles been allowed to continue, I believe we could have de-stigmatised the question of alcoholism in the UK. That could have helped millions of people. That was an opportunity missed. Charles remains a great friend to me personally, and he has my loyalty as a colleague to this day.

To a degree this is a matter of view, but obviously I disagree. It was clear to me as far back as 2003 that Charles was no longer in the driving seat in the party – that job was being performed by the Lords Rennard and Razzall. To a real extent the drinking was an irrelevance; it was his resolve to lead that was the problem. While our 2001 campaign won praise, the 2005 one was greeted with cynicism with its 10-point plan and empty policy soundbites. With the right leader with a grander vision in place in 2005 I have no doubt that we would have done significantly better.

As I say, this is ultimately just a question of judgement. Where I think Lembit is in for more criticism is his decision to dredge this issue up at every opportunity. My initial questions were a reaction to Lembit’s manifesto in which he states:

And I’m a loyalist: I stood up for Charles Kennedy as leader right to the end because he didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was.

This isn’t positive campaigning – it is reopening old wounds. Nor is it presidential. And nor is it loyal: as my original question asked, don’t Clegg and Cable deserve credit for taking a difficult stand they believe in, for the good of the party? I handed Lembit an opportunity to make amends here and he rather threw it back in my face.

QUESTION: Why didn’t Lembit stand against Simon Hughes in 2006? Hughes presided over a string of failures, most notoriously watching the party’s membership fall by 10,000 members despite having pledged to treble the membership in two years. Again, doesn’t that suggest a lack of resolve?

ANSWER: Simon beat me for the Presidency in 2004, and I judged that my best contribution would be as Senior Vice President – Simon’s Number 2 basically. We work well together and I felt the right thing to do was to actively sign Simon’s nomination form in 2006 as a vote of confidence in his Presidency and for an effective team. He’s popular, hard working and I think the membership has enjoyed his incumbency a lot. I’m a democrat and I was happy to go along with what feels like a consensus. For me to have stood against him in 2006 would have been both pointless and vain glorious.

Well that’s a shame because had Lembit stood back then I would not only have voted for him but actively supported him. Indeed, it was this decision to not contest which gave me second thoughts about him.

What’s more, in early 2006, Lembit was still announcing an intention to stand. I remember him at the Blackpool conference in 2005, leading the fight against Simon Hughes’ proposals for ethnic minority shortlists. He was very keen to be seen to be opposing Simon then and if he was in awe of Simon’s mastery of the office of President while I was on the FE with the both of them (2004-2005), Lembit kept it pretty well hidden.

QUESTION: Why wasn’t Lembit’s campaign ready in Bournemouth? Frankly, it was a total mess. Ros Scott launched her campaign exactly 12 months before, so it isn’t as if Lembit didn’t know she was serious. Is this the level of professionalism we can expect from him? Don’t actions speak louder than words?

ANSWER: My best friend, David Hamer, died on 6th August 2008 with no warning, aged 46. I’d also had some other very difficult personal news shortly before this. I had to deal with these emotional body blows first. This meant I didn’t have so much stuff organised at the Bournemouth conference. I’d also managed to contract something like bronchitis at the time, which I’m sure was a direct result of the emotional distress I was experiencing. These things happen and you can’t really plan for them. I’m glad I got through it as fast as I did. A lot of people have been hugely supportive over this period. I’m really grateful to have had this support – I can’t put my thanks into words really. Anyway, that’s why I didn’t have so many leaflets and all that at Conference.

That’s all fair enough, but at the risk of sounding like a heartless bastard, there are two problems with this answer:

Firstly, Ros was quite openly campaigning from the start of the Autumn Conference in 2007. It was quite clear how she was planning to play things. Lembit really needed to be getting his act together long before the summer. He didn’t.

Secondly, he did spend a considerable amount of time running his Segway campaign throughout September. Once again, it boils down to priorities.

My own view is that Lembit didn’t prepare adequately because he didn’t take Ros’ campaign seriously. It was pure hubris. Win or lose he has been forced to revise that opinion, which can only be a good thing.

Anyway, that’s my two-penneth. In hindsight, I probably ought to have pushed harder on why Lembit squandered his housing brief at a time when housing hasn’t been as high profile a portfolio in years, but I’ll have to let that one go. The ballots close at the end of the week and I think it’s fair to say I’ve well and truly had my say by now. My personal instinct is that it will be close: Lembit’s profile broadly helps him in an all-member ballot, but the lack of real fizz to the campaign makes it likely that turnout will be low – and that can only help Ros. If you haven’t voted yet, then bear in mind you could really make the difference.

Either way it has been a fascinating campaign. My fervent hope is that it points to a more vibrant style of internal elections to the ones we’ve had in the past and that 2006 will be the last occasion in which the election for Party President is uncontested. We’ll see in 2010!

Lembit finally answers? Sort of.

Lembit has now answered my questions, after a fashion. Linda Jack has rephrased them and got a response. But neither he nor his campaign team have deigned to even refer me to them.

Is this what he means by “courage” and campaigning in “primary colours”? Is this “I’m not talking to you” act not just a teeny bit childish?

I’ll respond to them another time since I’ve been concentrating on other things today, but meanwhile I wouldn’t want you to be deprived.

Grassroots beats astroturfing – official

With apologies for running two Lib Dem presidential election stories in one day – I am trying to cut down – promise!

Remember Lembit claiming he was set to win because he had more members on his Facebook group than the other candidates? Of course, since anyone can join a Facebook group, it turned out that Mark Littlewood for one was only registered so he could get more information, and a large number of other people appeared to simply be members because they were nutty-bonkers students, it didn’t mean very much.

But it is pretty significant when even Lembit’s attempts at astroturfing pale away into insignificance compared to Ros’ attempts at recruiting actual supporters:

If I were running Ros’ campaign, I’d be on the blower to the BBC to insist they do a piece on this, for balance.

Oh, and don’t forget to join my new group.