One and a half MPs back Lembit Opik for Mayor

Lembit Opik says he’s standing for Mayor of London because “one or two fairly senior Lib Dem MPs in London” have encouraged him to do so.  Really?

First of all, is it one or two?  Surely he knows the difference between being told to stand by one person and being told to stand by two.  (Or maybe one of them was Sarah Teather, who’s so short she only counts as a half.)

However many there were, who fits into this category of ‘fairly senior’?  There are only seven Lib Dem MPs in London, so it shouldn’t be hard to narrow down.

Paul Burstow in Minister of State at Health. That has to give him a high level of seniority, although rumours are he only got the job because Andrew Lansley doesn’t like Norman Lamb.  An early contender.

Tom Brake has hopped around the Lib Dem front bench for the past 13 years (who hasn’t?), without getting anything big.  Described the Home Affairs committee as “prestigious” after being appointed to it.  Should be too junior to meet Opik’s criteria.

Vince Cable walked on water for the Lib Dems, before selling out by agreeing to run a department he thought should be abolished, and changing his mind overnight about cutting the deficit.  But still, as senior as they come – the big surprise would be if he actually knows who Opik is.  Definitely not.

Ed Davey has been a Lib Dem big hitter for the past decade, including posts as shadown foreign and education secretaries and Menzies Campbell’s Chief of Staff.  His ministerial post might seem a bit lowly given his policy guru status over recent years (he was once considered the Lib Dem’s Letwin, until the coalition agreement when Lib Dem policy began to be devised by, well, Letwin).  He is a mere under secretary of state under Cable at Business, Innovation and Skills – but remains a player.  Another possible.

Lynne Featherstone has made a name for herself over and above the portfolios she’s held – the highest of which being shadow international development for a brief period – but not always for the most flattering of reasons.  Did it again when appointed Equalities Minister at the Home Office, a job Theresa May already had.  Well-known enough to fit the bill, especially given Opik’s obvious respect for the size of a person’s media profile.

Simon Hughes has just become Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems.  That may not earn him a place in the history books but I’ll bet he’d be annoyed if he was the one described as just ‘fairly’ senior.  Very unlikely.

Sarah Teather is Minister of State at Education.  Has had a very high profile ever since being elected as the youngest MP in 2003, and is a leading light for the Lib Dems.  Despite her size definitely deserves the decription ‘senior’.  May be a bit too shrewd to get herself associated with Opik, but could meet the criteria.
So who is it?  Only Cable and Hughes can be ruled out.  Tom Brake shouldn’t be called fairly senior, but Lembit Opik is an ex-MP – they’re all senior now compared to him.  Plus, Brake is the only one without a job and therefore has the time to chatting to Opik about his career prospects.  Just think about Opik’s phrasing – what is ‘fairly’ senior?  It means you want to say senior, but you know it’s not true.  So I reckon Brake’s the “one” in the “one or two”.

But who’s the “two”?  If there is a two, it’s clearly not someone who’s called Opik one night to congratulate him on his latest comedy gig and to tell him to stand (“If you want to make people laugh, Lembit…”).  There’s too much vagueness in that “one or two” for it to have been as straightforward and open as that. 

More likely it’s an offhand comment overheard somewhere.  Teather and Davey seem too guarded to do that – and who knows, if the coalition goes pear-shaped either of them could fancy a run at the Mayoralty themselves.  So it’s a toss-up between Burstow or Featherstone – either way, Opik’s “fairly senior” London Lib Dem MPs would actually turn out to be some of the least senior London Lib Dem MPs.

And the point of all this?  I just hate the phoniness of the idea that Opik is being urged to stand by others.  Why not just admit his own ambitions and, dare say it, self-belief that he might be a better Mayor than Boris or Ken?  Instead he maintains a pretence that the decision is down to a tiny group of just seven people  – and even in this world’s smallest opinion poll he has the support of only 14-28%.


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