CHEEKY Welsh Lib Dem leader Lembit Opik will face judgement at the ballot box over his showbiz antics, his party's Assembly chief has warned.
Mike German, who leads the Lib Dems in the Senedd, said he did not believe the publicity surrounding Mr pik's relationship with one of the Cheeky Girls would affect the party in next month's Assembly election.
But in a wide-ranging interview with Wales on Sunday, he warned his leader the public would have their say on the Montgomeryshire MP at the next general election, saying: "They may be warm to him, but whether they'll vote for him or not is another matter."
Mr Opik, 42, has been notable by his absence from the Lib Dem campaign. He did not attend the party's manifesto launch last week, and, despite being leader, does not feature once in the 60-page document.
It has been rumoured he was being kept away due to constant publicity about his private life. He split with weathergirl fianc e Sian Lloyd late last year and is now dating Cheeky Girl Gabriela Irimia, 24. The couple have appeared in Hello! magazine to talk about their new love and the politician even joked about his relationship in the House of Commons. Last month his own constituency chairman warned Mr pik's constant appearances on the London party scene could cost votes.
Mr German said: "I don't think that it will have an impact on the party. I just don't know whether it will have an impact on him and the way he's regarded by the public.
"I think they look at him and they might make that connection but they don't look at him as the party.
"They may be warm to him, but whether they'll vote for him or not is another matter. It's a judgement for him and the public later. That's the issue you won't be able to answer at this election. That's for the future."
Last month, constituency chairman Mervyn Kinsey said publicly that many party members as well as ordinary members of the public in the county were unhappy with their MP.
He said: "It's my view - and the view of many on the management committee in Montgomeryshire - that if [local AM] Mick Bates allies himself too much to Lembit, he will not win. People don't like the kind of publicity that Lembit has been getting.
"Fair enough, people have private lives. But you expect party leaders to be prudent in their private lives."
But of the party in Montgomeryshire, Mr German said: "I spoke to their constituency dinner last week and I thought the mood in the constituency party was really positive. I didn't detect the sort of worry that maybe the chair had expressed on one occasion."
Some members of the party in Wales privately predict a challenge to Mr pik after the Assembly Election.
Two AMs, Peter Black and Eleanor Burnham, began collecting signatures for a leadership challenge at last year's party conference before being warned off. Mr Black later claimed he had just been "winding Lembit up" while Ms Burnham said she was trying to increase her profile.