Matthew Norman: The Parable of the Lib Dem Cheeky Boy

Mr Opik may seem an unlikely Prince Charming for an exhibitionist 24-year-old novelty pop act
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The Independent Online

At this moment in the calendar, it is natural to seek the true meaning of Christmas and a reaffirmation of Jesus's message wherever they may lie. Thanks be to God, this year is shaping up into a beauty.

In London Zoo, the parthenogenic Komodo Dragons have confirmed the miracle of virgin birth, going one better than Mary by dispensing with any reptilian fumblings with the Archangel Gabriel, while David Irving's early release from Austrian jug brings to mind no fewer than three of Christ's teachings... the importance of loving thine enemy as thy friend, the requirement to welcome home a prodigal son, and the joy that shall be in heaven over a Holocaust-denying sinner that repenteth.

As for the Prime Minister's recent jaunt to the region in which it all took place, this reminds us inescapably of the bit from The Sermon On The Mount that goes: "Blessed are the Peacemakers, verily even they that have brazenly waged illegal war, and yea even those that are as lame ducks marooned on a pond in My Father's heavenly garden. For though they dart all over the Middle East seeking succour in a sense of self-importance, vainly hoping to deflect attention from their humiliation at home, still shall they be called the Children of God (Matthew 5:9)."

Yet as we rifle through the newspapers muttering cheery Hosannahs at seeing the timeless lessons of the Saviour reflected on almost every page, is there anything quite so spiritually enriching as the Parable of the Lib Dem Cheeky Boy? The love of Lembit Opik and Gabriela Irimia may not be The Greatest Story Ever Told, an accolade that sits nervously on the back of a romance which began at a party thrown by Channel 5's All Star Talent Show. Frankly, Mr Opik's ex-fiancée, Sian Lloyd, the Welsh weather forecaster, may be on to something in describing the relationship as "a pantomime" - Cinderella, one suspects, given that Gabriela's not remotely ugly sister, Monica, reports her identical twin being so "lovestruck" that she has ceased doing her household chores.

Mr Opik, who to the naked eye might be the unwanted love child of Bruce Forsyth and the late Charles Hawtrey, may seem an unlikely Prince Charming for an exhibitionist 24-year-old novelty pop act. And a young woman who reportedly faced the threats of bankruptcy and deportation back to Romania may appear an equally outlandish match for the 41-year-old leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Yet to examine the lyric of Gabriela's biggest hit is swiftly to be disabused of the notion that there is anything remotely tacky or artificial about it.

"I never ever ask where do you go, I never ever ask what do you do," goes the first verse of "Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)". "I never ever ask what's in your mind, I never ever ask if you'll be mine/Come and smile don't be shy, Touch my bum, this is life." Passing over a chorus which contents itself with reiterating the couplet "We are the Cheeky Girls, You are the Cheeky Boys", a moment's textural analysis of the verse may be instructive.

In every word, Gabriela expresses her instinctive understanding of the mid-life crisis... of how a man gingerly facing the limitations of middle age yearns for his carefree youth. She will never ask where he goes, what he does or even what he's thinking ... she is, in other words, offering sex and affection - and yes, love too - with the assurance that she will never smother him or pressure him to settle down ("I never ask if you'll be mine").

What a potent cocktail for a man portrayed by Ms Lloyd as a "love rat" incapable of sustaining an adult relationship. "Touch my bum, this is life," she concludes, adroitly mingling the physical and metaphysical, and which of us in would wish to pick a fight with that expression of personal philosophy?

In return, Lembit offers Gabriela so much more than the sort of cheap publicity which may or may not hasten the planned Cheeky Girls's comeback, bolstered by the addition of the twins' six-year-old niece, Lory, with a new version of the Hokey Cokey. He will spend countless hours wooing her anew with honeyed words about his area of special interest (how the world will be obliterated at any minute by asteroids). And already he has metaphorically touched the bum of the Home Office minister Liam Byrne, asking him for advice about the Irimias' visas. This has distressed his constituency party in Montgomeryshire, even though it is unclear whether he has done anything technically improper.

And if he has, who are we to criticise him to that? What is the prologue to the story of Christ's birth if not a heart-rending account of how his parents were forced to return to their home town by a merciless Augustus's demand for a census? Have we learnt nothing from Mary's arduous trek? Was Jesus born that the Cheeky Girls should be sent back to their birthplace by unflinching bureaucracy? And is there any harm in Gabriela and Lembit selling their story to Hello! so that she can render unto Visa that which is Visa's?

Frankly, Mr Opik could use some gentle publicity, because his recent political history has been unfortunate. He passionately backed Charles Kennedy's effort to cling on to the leadership, and when Charlie went he became campaign manager for Mark Oaten (unsurprisingly so since he was the only MP to support his candidacy). Then he switched his allegiance to Simon Hughes.

You may not want Mr Opik picking your roll-over lottery numbers, but this penchant for backing losers hints strongly at the Christ-like empathy for the dispossessed he reaffirms now by fighting the corner of a young woman in danger of deportation.

There are those, in this icily cynical, unChristian world who will bang on pompously about the ever-more distasteful nexus between politics and showbiz, casually dismissing this as a union between two people so hooked on double omega-list celebrity that they would merrily attend the opening of a bowel.

To those people, some alas within the Liberal Democrat Party itself, I can only quote from the pop-up Santa M&S Christmas card Noel Edmonds sent me long ago. "At this time of year," wrote Nolly, "do try to put hatred from your heart." If that doesn't convince you, remember the stricture of Monday's birthday boy, and judge not lest ye be judged.

"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you," said Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount. Bless the Cheeky Couple indeed, and let us pray that this sentiment brings them comfort in these difficult days.

May they somehow enjoy a happy and peaceful Christmas together, freed from the bondage of shyness, smiling without pause, and touching each others's bums.

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