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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 September 2007, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
Politics needs characters - Opik
By Justin Parkinson
Political reporter, BBC News, Lib Dem conference

Lembit Opik
Mr Opik has become a gossip column regular
Voters "like characters" in politics and parties should not "underestimate the power of the individual", Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik has said.

He told a meeting at the Lib Dem annual conference in Brighton that the public "would rather see failed dreamers than people with no dream at all".

But skills spokesman Sarah Teather said personality-based politics could have a "corrosive effect on democracy".

It could be used as an excuse to allow sexism to "run amok", she added.

Mr Opik has frequently made the headlines for his relationship with Cheeky Girls singer Gabriela Irimina and his interests, including harmonica-playing, aviation and warnings on the dangers of asteroids.

'Forgiving'

He told the meeting: "We under-estimate the importance of the individual in politics."

Mr Opik, the Lib Dem industry spokesman, also said individual MPs needed more freedom from party whips so they could vote according to their consciences on some issues.

He added: "We need to be a little bit more forgiving when sincerely held beliefs are not also held by the political party."

He said: "We have to decide it's OK for us to have characters, because the public like characters."

Ms Teather agreed that MPs' distinctive personalities could be a means of attracting interest in politics, adding: "But it can have a corrosive effect on democracy."

She said toleration of maverick characters' opinions could allow sexism and other forms of prejudice "to run amok without challenge".


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