Lembit Opik: You Ask The Questions

The Liberal Democrat MP answers your questions, such as 'Should Megrahi have been released?' and 'Do you have any dating tips?'
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The Independent Online

Have you completely given up hope of being leader of the Liberal Democrats? Harry Llovell, by email

No, because I never had that aspiration in the first place. However, I did hope to become president of the party, a position which I felt I had the character and experience for. Unfortunately, the party, including some very senior members, had other ideas, and I was defeated for that role in last year's presidential elections. I conclude from this that what I offered frightened the political horses too much. Since I'm not planning to dilute my libertarian philosophy, nor radically alter my style of politics, it remains to be seen whether I'd stand for this position again.

Why do you think Nick Clegg is doing so hopelessly? And do you think you would have done better? SIMON ANDERSON, BY EMAIL

I don't think he's "doing hopelessly" in the first place. He's resonated with a wider section of the population than, frankly, I'd expected. Also, he's taken a few risks – like interviews in less conventional magazines such as GQ and some of the more quirky media. That's something I support very much. It takes about two years to get fully established as a leader – that was true for his predecessors too – so I think his profile has a bit of room to grow further. Would I have done better? As I say, I don't aspire to the role. But in some parallel universe where I was leader, I'd take a different, more libertarian approach. I'd promote providing hard drugs on prescription for recorded addicts, and really push to reduce the state's ability to control our lives. I'd also promote talks with terrorist organisations, like we did in Northern Ireland. These are contentious issues, but I think there's space for this kind of radicalism in politics.

You developed brands for a big consumer products firm. How would you describe the Liberal brand? FIONA WALTON, by email

I'd describe the Liberal brand as public-service orientated, slightly left-leaning and suspicious of authority. We're sort of courteously anti-establishment. We need to emphasise those qualities – to paint the party in liberal primary colours. I sometimes feel we're too wedded to worthy pastel shades.

Does it bother you that your exhibitionist private life makes it hard for many voters to take your political views seriously? PATRICK BENSON, by email

I don't regard myself as an exhibitionist. My opponents are keen to make hay out of my distinctive approach to politics. But they seem unable to understand the difference between having a high profile and also having a robust political narrative. Ironically, a lot of the people who criticise me have a far less formed or consistent political outlook than mine. In what regrettably seems an ever more superficial media world, faced with a choice over whether to write about my views on drug reform or international terrorism, or speculating about who I'm going out with, reporters tend to opt for the latter. In a way that's up to them, but they're not serving the country well. It implies characterful people aren't valued in politics. If that were true, it would be a great pity, because I find I can reach out and connect with a lot of people who might otherwise not care to talk to a politician at all.

Do you think Megrahi should have been released? TIMOTHY BARBER, by email

I have no issue with his release, because I trust the decision-makers to have applied the values of British justice to the matter. It's certainly right that they, and not the media, made the decision. What I did find distasteful was observing some people trying to score points off Gordon Brown and his Cabinet over this. They clearly didn't make the call, and that was clear from the start. As for David Cameron saying he thought Megrahi should die in prison, I thought that was totally out of order because, unless he's applied the same rigour as the panel who made the decision, he either can't have the same level of information, or he's making a moral statement which is one step off the death penalty. He should be a bit more thoughtful before making such opportunistic statements.

Your party's policy on Gaddafi seems hopefully confused. Do you refuse to engage with him on the grounds that he is a tyrant? Or do you believe realpolitik demands you make friends with him, albeit with conditions? THOMAS BRADLEY, BY EMAIL

I'm not sure why you think the party's position is confused, but at, any rate, let me give you mine. I feel we should be willing to work with people like Gaddafi as long as the terms of reference are clearly established. So our working with him mustn't help him violate values and standards of international behaviour which we expect. But if we refuse to work with people like him, how do we ever bring rogue states in from the cold?

Are you in favour of a Tobin tax? LOUISA O'DONNEL, BY EMAIL

I've heard arguments for and against, and on this one, I just don't feel qualified to comment. I'm not all that keen on it, frankly, but I should spend an hour or two revising the case for and against, before professing any expertise. I guess I'll have to do that if the matter comes up in Parliament! I guess this is slightly frustrating, Louisa, but I learned long ago not to pretend I have a deeply informed view on everything!

There are a number of areas, such as on the renewal of Trident, where your party seems to have led public debate. And yet you're still miles off in the polls. Why do you think that is? LEZSLEK GODOR, BY EMAIL

The Lib Dems had to basically start from scratch in around 1990. We had 3 per cent then and we've clawed our way up the polls ever since. This is a work in progress – and I think the steady improvement in our performance shows it's still a positive situation for us. Trident is one of many issues where we've led the debate. We've just got to keep doing that – and as we do, so our electoral success will grow.

If you are a serious liberal in the tradition of Mill and Gladstone, what is your objection to the legalisation of drugs? DONALD DENBY, by email

Prohibition has caused a lot of harm and demonstrably increased crime and social problems in Britain. Whether legalisation of the prescription of hard drugs is preferable is a matter that must be researched. Sadly, we haven't even done an impact assessment of the current laws. That's got to be the starting point. I had a meeting with Gordon Brown specifically about this a couple of months ago and he seemed receptive to at least hearing the case for that research.

What drugs did you take in your student days at Bristol University? And what drugs have you taken since? JUDITH MACKINTOSH

Amazingly, I happen not to have done any "drugs" in the sense that you mean, such as illegal substances. This is partly through circumstance and partly because I know I'd react physically very badly if I smoked anything. However, I do drink and I think we should not separate alcohol from the "drugs" label. I think we kid ourselves as a country to pretend that it's any less damaging than other prohibited substances.

How did you spend your recess? HENRY TINSLEY

I've spent most of the summer in my constituency. Most MPs do. I think it's a crying shame that the recess is often described as a holiday. Most MPs spend most of it working, as have I.

You always seem attached to stunning looking women. For men who have problems attracting the opposite sex, what tips would you give? THANH NGUYEN, BIRMINGHAM

Don't believe everything you read in the papers! I don't think I'm qualified to give relationship advice. My only tip is to be genuinely respectful to people and show a true interest in who they are. But you know that already.

Does it worry you that you write a column for a publication which encourages the objectification of women as sexual objects, or do the pay cheques make it worth it? ALISON PONSONBY, BY EMAIL

I write for the Daily Sport because they give me the space to make a serious, unedited contribution in a way which might make politics interesting to people who may not otherwise find it all that attractive. I feel it's a valid outlet and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to cover real politics in an accessible way.