We might not have blamed Nick Clegg if he’d stayed under the duvet with a detective novel rather than turn up for his weekly Call Clegg session on LBC. Our leader is not one to duck out of things, though, and deserves respect for not hiding away and allowing himself to be quizzed on live radio. Clearly he was going to be asked about the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard (which the peer strenuously denies) and what he had done about them.
For the first time he acknowledged that although the main reason for the former Chief Executive’s resignation was health, this issue was in the background:
Well obviously this was all in the background. I mean, look I became like any new leader of any organisation, political party, any organisation, I wanted to make sure that the organisation reflected my priorities, my values, I felt it was the time, it was time for a change at the top of the kind of professional party. His health was poor and that was the immediate reason why he left but of course these things were in the background but his ill health was the immediate reason why he stood down.
Nick was also quick to admit that the party had made mistakes:
I hope anyone who knows me and I so much believe that it is crucial that you treat people with respect and dignity in everything you do. That’s what I expect of people in the organisation that I lead. That clearly did not happen here to put it mildly, there were some very serious mistakes and the women were not listened to and they were let down. And I am, that’s why on Thursday when I did know about the allegations, which I’d not heard of before, I immediately launched two investigations which will look at everything without any sort of fear or favour.
There was also some argument over today’s report in the Telegraph about when former MP Sandra Gidley told him about concerns about Lord Rennard’s behaviour, whether it was in 2007 after he became leader, or in 2008 as he’d said. Let’s bear in mind that Nick was elected on 17th December. The gap is not as great as is being made out.
A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson phoned in. Today we had Cathy Newman, the journalist who broke the story on Channel 4, on the line. This was followed up later by a tweet from John Prescott about the number of special advisers. I thought this show was about people who wouldn’t normally have access to the Deputy Prime Minister getting the chance to talk to him.
Nick went on to praise Cathy’s work last week, but you would think she would have thought of a better question to ask than one he’d asked and answered on several occasions already during the broadcast, on Rennard’s resignation. It’s also worth emphasising the point that my Liberal Democrat colleague Mark Pack made, that Channel 4, a body which is subject to statutory regulation, was able to produce such a story unimpeded. If you’ve read the Daily Mail over the past few days, you’d have been led to believe that Nick Clegg’s favoured statutory underpinning of Leveson reforms would silence them. This is plainly rubbish.
Prescott’s question was about Nick employing so many special advisers, saying that even Jesus stopped at 12. Nick made some wry observations about the difference between their respective roles as Deputy Prime Minister.
I don’t think he needed very many special advisers; he probably just had to make lots of cups of tea to try and create peace between the two men. I have to try and make sure that the two Parties govern together in the national interests across every single area of policy across government.
That, I suspect is code for “I need eyes in the back of my head to stop Tories doing silly things.”
Finally, on the Eastleigh by-election (where he’s headed this afternoon), Nick had this to say about Liberal Democrat prospects:
Well my sense is that actually when people vote they ask themselves who’s going to create jobs, who’s going to deliver fair taxes and who’s going to protect green spaces in the Eastleigh area and who is going to be an outstanding local MP for my area. And on all of those counts, delivering jobs, increasing the number of apprenticeships, delivering fairer taxes, lower council tax, fairer income tax and protecting green spaces I think everybody accepts in Eastleigh that it’s the Liberal Democrats who’ve got the record of action.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings