Looking back at three 'Honourable Gentlemen' who stood for seats

Reporter:

Daniel Heald

AS ANOTHER General Election looms large, political careers will be forged and others crushed as fierce party electioneering gets into full swing throughout the UK.
 
Campaign pledges, carefully orchestrated press briefings and traditional ‘pressing the flesh’ photo opportunities have already begun in earnest as political figureheads try to convince the electorate that their party should lead the country for the next five years.
 
The border counties regions have seen their own fair share of political figures vie for parliamentary candidacy over the years with varying degrees of success.
 
While some now find themselves cast into the political hinterland, others have flourished and found themselves in prominent seats of power elsewhere.
 
Of the three parties who traditionally share the highest proportion of votes – the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats - each has contested nearby constituency seats with high-profile candidates.
 
Where better to start than one of the country’s most instantly-recognisable political personalities, Boris Johnson.
 
The flamboyant, politically-astute Mayor of London has been touted as a potential successor to David Cameron as the Conservative Party leader.
 
Eleven years prior to becoming Mayor of London, Johnson stood as the Conservative candidate in Clwyd South in the 1997 General Election.
 
In a disappointing showing, Johnson was trounced in the polls by Labour candidate Martyn Jones who earned a 13,810 majority over his rival.
 
Johnson’s campaign was noted for several of his trademark rejoinders to policy questions asked by journalists.
 
During a debate about agricultural subsidies, Johnson opined: “Look, I’m rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.”
 
Following his resounding defeat, Johnson returned to London where a reporter for The Guardian asked if he could recall the names and faces of constituents he had met in Clwyd South.
 
He replied: “I tend to remember things like whether they had dung on their foreheads, or whether they told me a recipe for making brandy by boiling up Weetabix and blackcurrants.”
 
Though lacking the ‘household name’ status of the aforementioned politicians, Labour Party candidate, Brian Walden left politics to become a highly respected journalist and political broadcaster.
 
Walden contested the 1961 Oswestry by-election when the incumbent MP left the seat after becoming British Ambassador to Washington.
 
Given the constituency’s reputation as a Tory stronghold, few were surprised to see Walden finish third in the polls behind Conservative candidate John Biffen and Liberal representative, J. R. Buchanan.
 
Undeterred by this setback, Walden later triumphed at the 1964 General Election to become MP for Birmingham All Saints – a seat he subsequently retained in the elections of 1966, 1970, February 1974 and October 1974.
 
During his political career Walden was an ardent campaigner for the liberalisation of cannabis and gambling laws, work which led to some granting him the sobriquet “the bookies’ MP” after he was revealed to be receiving more from the National Association of Bookmakers than his parliamentary salary.
 
After leaving parliament, Walden pursued a successful career in broadcasting and garnered a reputation as a tenacious inquisitor of the political elite.
 
His 1989 interview with former prime minister Margaret Thatcher is regarded as one of his finest.
 
In the midst of rumoured discontent among her own ministers, Walden pulled no punches in his televised exchanges with Thatcher.
 
He said: “You come over as being someone who one of your backbenchers said is slightly off her trolley, authoritarian, domineering, refusing to listen to anybody else - why? Why cannot you publicly project what you have just told me is your private character?”
 
The Prime Minister replied: “Brian, if anyone’s coming over as domineering in this interview, it’s you.”
 
Despite the hostile nature of the interview, Thatcher’s autobiography later revealed that she was a fan of Walden and that he had periodically worked as a speechwriter for her during her time in power.
 
Now in his 80s, Walden has lived in Guernsey since his retirement.
 
The former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Lembit Öpik, served as MP for the constituency of Montgomeryshire between 1997-2010.
 
Following three successive and convincing General Election victories, Öpik was ousted from his seat in 2010 by Conservative candidate Glyn Davies, who secured a narrow victory with a majority of just 1,184 votes.
 
The victory represented a hefty swing of 13.2 per cent in Conservative gains from the Liberal Democrats in one of the most surprising results of election night.
 
In reflecting on the shock result, Öpik was magnanimous in defeat.
 
He said: “I don’t seem to have resentment or self-pitying software in my head. Failure was always an option. If you’re a politician, the prospect of defeat is always a risk. If you’re not prepared to contemplate that you shouldn’t stand.
“I was sad because I enjoyed my work. But I was beaten and that’s that. I didn’t need a recount. If I seemed gracious, it’s because of how I felt at the time. I wish my successor well, that’s how I would want to be treated in the same position. 
 
“It was a real shock. The Conservative vote rocketed up by around 6,000 and ours fell by around 2,000.”
 
Away from his political work, Öpik’s private life drew considerable media attention as a result of his personal relationships with television weather presenter, Siân Lloyd and with pop star Gabriela Irimia of the Cheeky Girls.
 
A failed attempt to stand as the Lib Dem candidate for the 2012 London mayoral election since losing his constituency seat has seen Öpik’s political career stall.
 
He has since cultivated minor-celebrity status and has appeared in numerous reality television shows, starred in a music video and even enjoyed a brief stint as a wrestler.

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