Does Lembit have the 'Mayor factor'?

The cheeky Lib Dem milks speculation of a London mayoral bid for all its worth

With Parliament now in recess and Middle England migrating to France for August, traditional media enters the silly season as news editors look to fill column inches. This period of wild rumours has found a natural home on the blogosphere.

The British blogging scene was salivating for a few hours at the possibility of a triumvirate of big political personalities clashing for the post of London Mayor with the rumour Lembit Opik had put his name in the hat.

With the thought of such a celebrity-driven election, The Daily Referendum suggested: "Maybe Simon Cowell can be signed up to run some kind of 'The Mayor Factor' competition for TV?"

In an interview on ePolitix.com, Ed Davey proclaimed: "Lembit is a good friend of mine, I share an office with him, and if he decided to run he would certainly make one of the most interesting candidates in the race. Would Lembit make a good mayor? I think that Lembit would make a much better mayor than Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone."

This was picked up by Welsh blogger Matt Withers, who concluded: "Sounds pretty definite to me. Ken v Boris v Lembit, eh? This could get interesting..."

When Lembit finally denied he would be running, it prompted accusations of storms in tea cups. Not least from Peter Black AM: "What puzzled me was why Lembit did not kill the rumour stone dead immediately, but then he has always enjoyed the spotlight and clearly wanted to drag his denial out as long as possible."

The summer break also brings on a bout of annual blog backslapping. In the Witanagemot awards there were more categories than bloggers. Some of the more outlandish categories were "Blogger you’d most like to shag" (won by Rachel from North London) and "Blogger most likely to vote for a donkey if you slapped the correct colour rosette on it" (Iain Dale).

In fact, Dale swept the awards, including the award for most deserving of a book deal. Which is just as well seeing as he is compiling his annual top 100 list for the 2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK. This year he is relying on contributions from readers, which you can add to here.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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