Lembit Öpik

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Lembit Öpik
Lembit opik.jpg
Lib Dems Spokesperson for Housing
In office
20 December 2007 – 24 September 2008
Leader Nick Clegg
Preceded by Paul Holmes
Succeeded by Sarah Teather
Lib Dems Spokesperson for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
In office
4 July 2007 – 20 December 2007
Leader Menzies Campbell
Preceded by Susan Kramer
Succeeded by Sarah Teather
Lib Dems Spokesperson for Wales and Lib Dems Spokesperson for Northern Ireland
In office
15 May 2003 – 4 July 2007
Leader Charles Kennedy
Menzies Campbell
Succeeded by Alistair Carmichael
(Lib Dems Spokesperson for Northern Ireland)
Roger Williams
(Lib Dem Spokesperson for Wales)
Member of Parliament
for Montgomeryshire
In office
1 May 1997 – 6 May 2010
Preceded by Alex Carlile
Succeeded by Glyn Davies
Personal details
Born (1965-03-02) 2 March 1965 (age 49)
Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
Nationality British
Political party Welsh Liberal Democrats
Domestic partner Gabriela Irimia (2006–2008)
Alma mater University of Bristol

Lembit Öpik (/ˈlɛmbɪt ˈpɪk/, Estonian: [ˈlembit ˈøpˑik]; born 2 March 1965) is a British former politician. A member of the Liberal Democrats, he served as a member of parliament (MP) representing the constituency of Montgomeryshire in Wales from 1997 until he lost his seat at the 2010 general election. He was the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 2001 to 2007.

Öpik stood unsuccessfully for the position of president of the party in 2004 and 2008. He was also unsuccessful in a bid to become the Liberal Democrats' nominee for mayor of London in the 2012 mayoral election.

Beyond his political work, Öpik has also been in the public eye through his appearances on several television shows, and as a result of his high-profile personal relationships with ITV weather presenter Siân Lloyd and with pop star Gabriela Irimia of the Cheeky Girls, which drew considerable media attention.

Early life[edit]

Öpik's parents were from Estonia, but after its occupation by the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, they fled to Northern Ireland. Öpik was born in Bangor, County Down, the elder son of Liivi Öpik (née Vedo) and physicist Dr Uno Öpik (19 October 1926 – 6 May 2005), and grew up there with sister Urve Öpik (born 1960, a psychotherapist) and brother Endel "Tal" Öpik (12 April 1968 – 21 November 2005,[1] a musician). His grandfather was Ernst Julius Öpik, an Estonian astronomer who worked at Armagh Observatory.

Öpik was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution before going on to the University of Bristol, where he completed a degree in philosophy. He served as the President of the University of Bristol Union (1985–86), and as a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Students (1987–88).

In 1988 Öpik joined Procter & Gamble in Newcastle upon Tyne as a brand assistant. In 1991 he became corporate training and organisation development manager, and was promoted to be global human resources training manager in 1996. Öpik was elected to the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive Committee in 1991.

Öpik stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for Newcastle upon Tyne Central in the 1992 general election, and for Northumbria in the 1994 European Parliament elections. He was elected as a councillor on Newcastle City Council in 1992.

Member of Parliament[edit]

At the 1997 general election, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, Alex Carlile, retired and Öpik successfully stood as the Lib Dem candidate. He retained the seat at the 2001 general election and at the 2005 general election, increasing his share of the vote by 3.5% in 2001[2] and by a further 1.8% in 2005, giving him a majority of 7,173 over the Conservative candidate.[3] However, he lost his seat to the Conservative Glyn Davies following a 13.2% swing in Montgomeryshire at the 2010 general election.[4]

Öpik served as the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education (1997), Northern Ireland (1997–2007), Wales (2001–07), business (2007), and housing (2007–08).[5]

During the 2001–05 Parliament, Öpik was a member of the agriculture select committee in the House of Commons. He was the joint chair of the Middle Way Group, a cross-party parliamentary group which supported the regulation, rather than the banning, of fox hunting.

Welsh party leadership[edit]

Öpik became leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in 2001 following the retirement of Richard Livsey. He stood down in 2007[6] and was succeeded by Mike German.

Campaigns for party presidency[edit]

In September 2004, Öpik stood for the position of president of the Liberal Democrats, but was defeated by Simon Hughes. The party president chairs a number of party committees and also represents the party at official functions.

In 2008, a campaign amongst grassroots party members backing him as a successor to Hughes, under the slogan "I Pick Öpik", emerged at the party's 2008 spring conference in Liverpool. On 24 September, Öpik announced that he was standing down as the party's housing spokesman to concentrate on a campaign for party president.[7] However, in the party ballot in November, Öpik was defeated by Baroness Scott of Needham Market by 20,736 votes to 6,247.[8]

Support for party leadership candidates[edit]

In successive Liberal Democrat leadership contests, Öpik gained a reputation for backing campaigns that soon collapse, leading some to talk of the "curse of Lembit" making his backing undesirable.[9]

In 1999, he was one of only two of the party's 46 MPs to back the abortive leadership campaign of Don Foster. Foster abandoned his campaign before nominations even closed, and backed Charles Kennedy, the eventual winner, instead.

During the 2006 leadership contest, Öpik was initially a strong supporter of Kennedy, who then stood down. Öpik subsequently became campaign manager for Mark Oaten. However, Oaten quickly withdrew from the contest, having failed to attract enough support from within the parliamentary party; his only backers were Öpik and Baroness Ludford.

In the 2007 leadership election, Öpik declared his backing for Nick Clegg, and when Clegg won the election Öpik said "My man won, so the curse of Öpik has at last become a blessing".[10]

Öpik supported Jenny Randerson in the 2008 contest for leadership of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Randerson lost to Kirsty Williams.[11]

2010 and beyond[edit]

Öpik lost his seat in parliament at the 2010 general election when he was defeated in his constituency of Montgomeryshire by Glyn Davies of the Conservative Party by 13,976 votes to 12,792. This represented a swing of 12.5% against Öpik and a swing of 13.8% in favour of the Conservatives in the constituency.

Öpik put himself forward to be the Liberal Democrats' nominee for mayor of London in the 2012 mayoral election, however he was knocked out in the first round of the party's selection ballot, coming fourth with 252 votes.[12]

Öpik was a candidate for the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive committee in 2012, but was not elected.[13]

Öpik also expressed an interest in becoming the Liberal Democrats' candidate for the position of Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria in 2012. However he was ruled ineligible because he did not have a residence in the region.[14]

Late in 2012 he joined Leadenhall Consulting, an HR consulting firm specialising in the insurance and financial sectors, as an associate director responsible for developing training. On joining the firm, Opik explained that training is his "first love".[15][16]

Öpik is a long-time supporter of the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG UK) and a keen motorcyclist. On 23 November 2013 it was announced that Öpik had joined MAG as Director of Communications and Public Affairs. In the post he will work on behalf of motorcyclists in the UK and Europe.[17]

Public appearances[edit]

Öpik has appeared several times on the BBC satirical current affairs quiz show Have I Got News for You (including an appearance on the day after he lost his parliamentary seat), as well as Question Time and Any Questions. Away from politics he has also appeared on Stand Up for the Week, Al Murray's Happy Hour, All Star Mr and Mrs, Loose Women, Bargain Hunt Famous Finds, Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Come Dine With Me and I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! He became the second person to be eliminated after finding himself in the bottom two with fellow contestant Linford Christie. Öpik has shown great promise in his cameo role as jockey in the popular Fulham Panto, helping to raise money for the charity Help For Heroes. He briefly appeared in one episode of Celebrity Juice in 2011.

Öpik has also gained media attention for his part in a music video by unsigned band The Good Suns. The video, directed by Deerhead, featured the politician dancing and miming lyrics to their debut song Pop Wound.[18]

In March 2012, Lembit Öpik began collaborating with rock band Adam and the Asbos on their action/adventure sci-fi film Adam and the Asbos: The Movie.[19] In April and May 2012, he made appearances in a professional wrestling promotion, appearing from the audience to confront wrestler Kade Callous for cheating;[20] Öpik was in turn challenged to appear in a later tag team match, which ended with Öpik "black and blue".[21] He continues to court media interest and regularly features in the national press, often for trivia.[22]

In November of 2013 Lembit joined Andy Goldstein and Jason Cundy on talkSPORT for an interview where he voiced his belief that an asteroid may wipe out life on Earth within the next decade.[citation needed] Lembit regularly appears in a comic persona on the podcast Political Takeout.[citation needed]

Parliamentary scandals[edit]

Öpik has criticised the tabloid press for portraying politicians as "liars and opportunists" in their coverage of scandals. He wrote a column in the (now defunct) Daily Sport newspaper earning him up to £5,000 a year.[23]

Expenses row and criticism[edit]

In May 2009 The Daily Telegraph published details of Öpik's parliamentary expenses claims. It showed that in 2008–2009 Öpik claimed £23,083 in second home allowances out of public funds, including various items of furniture and a £40 summons charge for non-payment of council tax.

Öpik told the Telegraph "I am willing to pay back the £40" but did not offer to repay anything else. The Telegraph also outlined a rejected expense claim Öpik attempted to make for £2,499 for a plasma screen television, after which he bought a TV costing £750.[24][25]

Published work[edit]

On 5 March 2012, Öpik released his first collaborative work with Edward Joyce, The Alternative View, a book discussing the future of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, including a call for current party leader Nick Clegg to step down as Leader of The Liberal Democrats, but to remain deputy prime minister in the coalition government. The book's cover pays tribute to The Orange Book, although Öpik himself has often been considered a member of the left wing of the party.

Personal life and charity work[edit]

Lembit Öpik in 2010

Öpik speaks fluent English, Estonian and German.[26]

On 13 April 1998 Öpik came close to death in a near fatal paragliding accident. He fell 80 feet (24 m) onto a Welsh mountain in his constituency, and broke his back in twelve places, as well as his ribs, sternum and jaw.[27][28] This experience caused him to take a keen interest in the Spinal Injuries Association,[29] of which he is a member. Despite the accident, he continues with his interest in aviation. He talked about the accident to the July 2010 edition of Flaps Podcast, where he recounted his accident and its aftermath. He has since become a glider pilot at the Midland Gliding Club in Shropshire. He holds a pilot's licence and spoke for British gliding in the House of Commons. Öpik also rides motorcycles and is a member of the Motorcycle Action Group.

He participated in a celebrity edition of The Apprentice in order to raise money for charity.[30] Sport Relief Does The Apprentice was part of Sport Relief, the Comic Relief/BBC charity initiative that aired on 12 and 14 March 2008. In 2006 he became president of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, following his father's death from the disease the previous year.

He and ITV weather presenter Siân Lloyd appeared on Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on 15 April 2006, winning £64,000 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Action for Children.[citation needed] The couple came close to marrying, but she ended the relationship in October 2006 and made unflattering comments about Öpik in her autobiography, A Funny Kind of Love. In particular, she cited "women and alcohol" as two things which undermined their relationship, detailing Öpik's "rowdy, drunken behaviour" and claiming that he would drink two bottles of wine in an evening.[31]

Lloyd said that, after heavy drinking throughout the week, he claimed his ability to avoid drinking for 24 hours every Sunday "proved he didn't have a problem" with alcohol; but "the reality was he often drank shots in the minutes leading up to midnight on Saturday, and would then uncork a bottle of wine come midnight on Sunday."[31] Lloyd described "wanting to save him from the demons that are fuelled by alcohol"[32] and tiring of finding texts to other women signed "Puppy Dog",[31] and said that she gradually noticed "more and more nights when he didn't come home. Leaving parties were his default excuse. But just how many times would a woman called 'Emma' be leaving his office?"[32] According to Lynn Barber, the author's "main purpose seems to have been demolishing love-rat Lembit".[33]

Öpik later became involved with then-24-year-old Gabriela Irimia of pop music double-act The Cheeky Girls. He announced his engagement to her in a popular magazine, after proposing in Rome.[34] They split up in July 2008 after a "difficult period" in the relationship.[35]

Öpik supports the English football club Leicester City.[36] His mother lives in the city of Leicester.[37]

In June 2010 he made his debut as a stand-up comedian at the Backstage Comedy Club in London's West End. It was described by one audience member as "not fantastic, but not completely awful".[38]

With Hilary Bird and Ulvi Mustmaa, he is the author of the Xenophobe's Guide to the Estonians, published by Oval Books in June 2010.[39]

Öpik learned to speak Welsh in a television series shown on S4C in July 2011.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "House of Commons Debates for 23 November 2005 (pt 20)". Hansard, House of Commons. The Stationery Office. 2005-11-23. 
  2. ^ "Vote 2001 - Results & Constituencies - Montgomeryshire". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  3. ^ "Montgomeryshire - Aristotle". Guardian Unlimited Politics (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 2010-05-07. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Election 2010 - Montgomeryshire". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  5. ^ "Biographical details in The Guardian". London: The Guardian. 2008-06-13. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Öpik to step down from party post". BBC News. 2007-10-13. 
  7. ^ "Opik Leaves Lib Dem Front Bench". BBC News. 2008-09-24. 
  8. ^ "Ros Scott named Lib Dem president". BBC News. 2008-11-08. 
  9. ^ "Opik sides with Clegg on Lib-Dem vote". Western Mail. Media Wales Ltd. 2007-11-03. 
  10. ^ Claire Truscott (2007-12-18). "Clegg's election: reaction in quotes". The Guardian (London). 
  11. ^ "AM starts Lib Dem leadership bid". BBC News. 2008-11-03. 
  12. ^ Hélène Mulholland (2011-09-02). "Brian Paddick picked by Liberal Democrats for London mayoral race". Guardian Unlimited Politics (The Guardian). 
  13. ^ "Federal executive committee". 
  14. ^ "Lembit Opik misses out on Lib Dem top cop bid". Sunday Sun. 2012-09-09. 
  15. ^ Banks, Richard (2013-01-10). "Ex-MP Lembit Öpik brings a 'fresh approach' to London market insurance training". 
  16. ^ Pearce, Andrew (2013-01-15). "Lembit Opik tells brokers to be "less risk averse"". 
  17. ^ "Lembit Öpik adds passion and power to MAG's Communications and Campaigns Team". Warwick: Motorcycle Action Group. 23 November 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  18. ^ "The Good Suns - 'Pop Wound' video". NME. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  19. ^ "Lembit Releases His Inner Space Cadet". Evening Standard. 2012-03-21. 
  20. ^ Allen, Emily (2011-04-17). "Can this man sink any lower? Lembit Opik dragged into the ring after picking fight with an 18 stone wrestler (but it was all for show)". Daily Mail (London). 
  21. ^ "Ex-MP Lembit Opik 'black and blue' after wrestling bout". BBC News. 2012-06-04. 
  22. ^ "Ex-MP Lembit Opik bitten in the GROIN by a sausage dog". Daily Mail (London). 
  23. ^ Withers, Matt (2009-03-06). "Tabloid columnist Lembit Öpik rounds on the red tops". WalesOnline. 
  24. ^ Swaine, Jon (2009-05-13). "Lembit Opik forced to pay for own £2,500 plasma TV : MPs' expenses". London: The Telegraph. 
  25. ^ "Opik to repay tax summons expense". BBC News. 2009-05-13. 
  26. ^ "Lembit Öpik: There's more to the cheeky boy than his love-life". The Independent (London). 2007-03-17. 
  27. ^ Higgit, D. (2007-08-27). "The day my life changed". Western Standard. 
  28. ^ "Liberal Democrats -Öpik". Libdems.org.uk. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  29. ^ "Spinal Injuries Association webpage". Spinal.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  30. ^ "Lembit Öpik to appear in Sport Relief Does The Apprentice for charity". Charities Aid Foundation. 2008-02-28. 
  31. ^ a b c "One hell of a cheek ... How my fiancé Lembit Opik flaunted his Cheeky Girl, by Sian Lloyd". Daily Mail (London). 2008-03-24. 
  32. ^ a b "My relationship with oddball MP Lembit Opik, and why I'm glad it's over, by Sian Lloyd (Part 2)". Daily Mail (London). 2008-03-20. 
  33. ^ Barber, Lynn (2008-06-15). "Interview: Lembit Opik". The Observer (London). 
  34. ^ "Lib Dem MP gets apology over Cheeky Sunday Times story". Press Gazette. 2007-10-31. 
  35. ^ "Cheeky Girl dumps MP fiancé Lembit". imdb. 2008-07-13. 
  36. ^ "Your MP Identified". CBBC Newsround (BBC News). 2002-11-13. 
  37. ^ "House of Commons Debates for 5 June 2003 (pt 13)". Hansard, House of Commons. The Stationery Office. 2003-06-05. 
  38. ^ Osbourne, Paul (2010-06-03). "Former MP Lembit Opik begins comedy career in London". BBC News. 
  39. ^ Bird, Hilary; Opik, Lembit; Mustmaa, Ulvi. "Xenophobe's Guide to the Estonians (9781906042301)". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alex Carlile
Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire
19972010
Succeeded by
Glyn Davies
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richard Livsey
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
2001–2007
Succeeded by
Mike German