Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Öpik History Wars

For many one of the biggest shock results in last year's general election was Conservative Glyn Davies's gain of Montgomeryshire from Lembit Öpik. But for some it wasn't a surprise at all and had been predicted for years.

Now that is standing to be his party's candidate for Mayor of London, there has been a lot of talk about why he lost so dramatically - the biggest anti-Lib Dem swing in a held seat, the most distant Conservative gain and the Lib Dems losing a seat that was supposedly "Liberal forever (so long as they remember to campaign)". And there's some fierce fighting over recent political history.

Suddenly even more appropriate...It's become such an issue that even Öpik's nomination manifesto (warning that's a very BIG file) feels the need to address it, saying the following:

Lembit lost his seat in 2010
The failure of the party to retain both the parliamentary and Welsh Assembly seat in 2010 and 2011 in Montgomeryshire is linked to the drunken altercation between Assembly Member Mick Bates and a paramedic which led to his prosecution and to him leaving the party. Many were aware of Lembit's celebrity profile and assumed that this was the cause of the loss. Regrettably the party did worse in 2011 even indicating a common factor for both poor results.

This just does not convince. And it's unsurprising that it's provoked blog post responses from both the Lib Dem Welsh Assembly Member Peter Black (Lembit Öpik and the rewriting of history) and Conservative MP Glyn Davies (Lembit - take it on the chin like a man.).

I've commented myself on the matter - see for instance my comments at Dave Hill's London Blog: London Lib Dems will choose their mayoral candidate from field of four for my trading the statistics - and so for now I'll just confine myself to showing that the defeat was being predicted long before Mick Bates hit the paramedic, even if not everyone picked up on it.

First from a Usenet post I wrote two years ago:

Montgomeryshire isn't quite the "Liberal forever (except when they're too busy planning centenary celebrations to actually campaign to retain it)" bastion of legend but in several ways is very much a personalist constituency. Now sure I have my personal biases but much of what I've heard from there (including from my sister, who until recently lived and worked in Machynlleth at the very west of the seat and is somewhat to the left of me), Lembit Opik's popularity is shrinking faster than an asteroid burning up in the atmosphere because of his clowning around, high profile personal life and lack of any serious political track record.

By contrast the Conservative candidate is Glyn Davies is widely respected across the political spectrum - I've heard many Plaid members openly say a lot of good things about him (and even that they'd vote for him) - and if anything has increased his appeal by losing his list seat in the last Assembly elections only because the Conservatives gained two constituencies. Whilst the Assembly list results aren't a 100% guide to what will happen in a Westminster election, it's notable the Conservatives topped the poll there.

Furthermore with the Liberal Democrats under pressure in the neighbouring seats of Brecon & Radnorshire and Ceredigion they simply can't target all their energy in Mid & West Wales on Montgomeryshire even if they wanted to - and from comments by Lib Dem activists I get the feeling that many would not want to anyway and are certainly not going to haul themselves great distances to allow Lembit to carry on as Mr Celebrity.
(Message from discussion Opinion poll in Wales on uk.politics.electoral at Jun 16 2009, 11:08 am

Next there's UK Polling Report's specific discussion on Montgomeryshire. Many amateur (and not so amateur) psephologists comment there and unrealistic predictions are easily shot down. People were predicting the Lib Dems were in Öpik-specific difficulties as early as February 2007, with the earliest outright prediction of a loss in July 2008.

Finally there's the Vote UK discussion thread on Montgomeryshire. The earliest outright defeat prediction was in September 2007.

One other point has emerged - Öpik neither wrote his own manifesto nor checked it before it was submitted - see his comments in WalesOnline: Peter Black launches furious attack on 'self-obsessive' Lib Dem colleague Lembit Opik. If he's not even in control of his own campaign, how could he ever hope to be in control of London?

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