Wednesday, September 19, 2007


No-one can deny that Liberal Democrat Industry Spokesman Lembit Opik is a character, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that he argues that "We have to decide it's OK for us to have characters, because the public like characters." Opik has always been a controversial character. He spent many years talking of the dangers of asteroids hitting the earth and his private life is often the subject of tabloid gossip. His partners have included weather girl Sian Lloyd and Gabriela Irimina one half of the novelty pop act The Cheeky Girls, the latter relationship bringing him a lot of media attention but perhaps for the wrong reasons (as the below testifies). So, is he correct in arguing the personality matters?

Well of course he is. Blair emphasised the idea of himself as a 'straight kind of guy', Cameron tells us he is Mr Average, the guy in the street, with both there may well be questions over their authenticity, perhaps their ability to cultivate a persona, but belief in who they are is important. The reason is that voters can assess the extent to which they will do what they want by their closeness to themselves. this is called proximity politics, where voters see someone's personality and policies as being closest to themselves and select that candidate on that basis. But there is more to it than just having personality.

Politicians must also be credible. This was the debate surrounding Charles Kennedy, he was well liked but was he credible as a leader and potential power-broker. Ming Campbell suffers similarly due to age largely. But characters like Boris Johnson and Lembit Opik, politicians who have become celebrities and known for the trivial, controversial or wacky maybe liked but lack credibility. This will be a problem for Johnson as a candidate for London Mayor and perhaps for any party that encourages more personalities. The celebrity politician may become well-known and promote the party but they can also be damaging to a party's credibility; hence there is a fine line to be drawn somewhere between being known and being a likeable, but incredible, celebrity.

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