Saturday, July 30, 2011

Obscure moments in Liberal history: How Lembit Opik deprived Dan Falchikov of a seat on the NUS national executive

I see that Dan Falchikov has a reservation or two about Lembit Opik's campaign to become Lib Dem candidate for Mayor of London.

What I suspect even Dan doesn't remember is that long ago Lembit effectively denied him a place on the prestigious and exalted National Executive of the National Union of Students.

As a student in the 1980s I developed the eccentric habit of standing for election for the Leicester University delegation to the NUS conference. A couple of times I even got elected, finding myself the lone Liberal among leftists of various stripes. This was also pretty much the balance of representation in the conference as a whole.

In 1987 the Liberals were hoping to retain their single seat on the national executive. Dan was our candidate. His best chance of election was for one of the 12 part-time posts, which were elected by STV in blocks of 3, 4 and 5. As STV afficionados will realise, our best hope was in the block of 5, which needed a lower quota to be elected. There should have been enough committed Liberal or SDP delegates, together with non-aligned non-socialists to scrape a seat.

Unfortunately, Lembit, standing as an independent, spoiled everything by contesting a seat in this block. He had enjoyed positive national coverage as president of Bristol University Students Union during the on-campus demonstrations over Professor John Vincent's Sun column. He then garnered an impressive number of votes in losing to Labour for NUS President. So he could have won a seat in the more difficult elections for the blocks of three or four. But by standing in the block of five he siphoned off the floating votes that we needed to get Dan elected and left the NUS national executive without Liberal representation for the first time in many years.

I am slightly ashamed of remembering all this - it marks me out as a true political anorak. But it was Lembit's first venture onto the national stage. Had things gone only slightly differently, it might have been Dan who ended up as an MP in rural Wales with semi-celebrity status, and Lembit as a "plain-speaking" blogger and party activist. But I suspect Dan wouldn't have blown a 7,000+ majority. And he's certainly right about the folly of Lembit's mayoral campaign.

1 comment:

Dan Falchikov said...

Good to see you back blogging again Iain.

Sadly I do remember the 1987 NUS executive elections and Lembit's candidature.

At the time the right wing and extremely careerist Labour leadership of NUS (no change there then) - led by people like Phil Woolas, always stitched up the Liberal on the executive giving them portfolios like Northern Ireland which meant they almost always faced a no confidence at the subsequent conference.

I think if I had got on I probably would have resigned (before I was pushed). But I certainly would never have become an MP in mid Wales - although I enjoyed immensely a week in Brecon and Radnor for the by-election in 1985.