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.
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.