Danny Alexander MP writes exclusively for Lib Dem Voice: Statement on Lord Rennard allegations

Nick Clegg has today announced that Helena Morrissey will chair the independent inquiry into culture, process and complaints within the Liberal Democrats. Jo Swinson is speaking at the party conference rally tonight and will tell party members about her role in dealing with allegations about Lord Rennard. I want to do the same.

I had been Nick’s chief of staff since his election in December 2007. In 2008, Jo told me of concerns that had been expressed to her privately and in confidence by a number of women about the conduct of Lord Rennard.

While she did not give me any names or identifying details, since they had been shared in confidence, the general concerns about inappropriate behaviour at party events were deeply troubling. Jo was very clear that while the individuals she had spoken to understandably didn’t want to testify or have their names used, they did want action taken to ensure this ‘would not happen again.’

Having discussed the matter with Nick, I spoke directly to Lord Rennard. I explained the nature of the concerns and warned him in strong terms that any such conduct would be wholly unacceptable and wrong. Lord Rennard categorically denied the allegations, as he continues to do. It is a fundamental liberal principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but I was clear that these were serious issues and that given what was being said he needed to avoid any situation that could possibly cause further concern. These were not easy conversations, nor should they have been.

I reported this back to Jo and she spoke again to the women concerned, to tell them what had been done. The feedback at the time was that we had done what was wanted. I am unaware of any complaints that date from after those conversations. And, as Nick has rightly said, these events were in the background when Lord Rennard’s resignation, on health grounds, was accepted a few months later.

I continue to feel that at the time we took this very seriously and acted in the most appropriate way given the way the concerns were expressed and, most importantly, the wishes of those affected as they were passed on to me. But these events also shed light on some very serious inadequacies in our party’s procedures and policies at the time – the lack of a formal route for whistleblowers and therefore no clear system for issues like this to be dealt with. Treating people fairly, equally, and with respect are at the core of our liberal values – they need be at the core of our organisation too. The inquiries Nick has set up need to ensure the right lessons are learned. We need to act on them – and we will.

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4 Comments

  • In the end,because of the passage of time, it can’t be proofed one way or other. But this contradicts what Lord Rennard said, nobody had spoken to him about it.

  • Rennard announced his resignation on 21 May 2009. Danny Alexander seems to indicate that he spoke to Rennard “a few months earlier” — “a few” is vague, but it would be stretching the meaning of the term to push this discussion back before the beginning of 2009. Yet Mr Alexander states that he had first spoken to Jo Swinson about the allegations in 2008. How many months elapsed between Mr Alexander’s first hearing about the allegations and his initiation of contact with Rennard? Did these allegations seem like something that should be dealt with promptly, or did they not?

    Was there or was there not a mechanism for informing other organizations interested in making use of Rennard’s services of the existence of these allegations? Were they or were they not in fact informed?

  • I’m unconvinced by this. Maybe these questions should be a matter for the inquiry, but as Danny has “exclusively” chosen this channel to communicate with the party I hope they can be addressed here:

    You say you acted appropriately. I can’t agree. Neither you nor Nick were Chris’s line manager or in any sense responsible for his employment. If you had concerns about his behaviour the correct course was surely to take them up with that person so the could be correctly dealt with. By acting outside of the proper legal and contractual routes for handling complaints about an employee you actually increased the risk to the party as this could have started down the route leading to constructive dismissal.

    Did you discuss this issue with Chris’s line manager to ensure that the matter was dealt with with the correct legal and contractual process? If not why not?

    When Chris denied these allegations to you there was still a serious issue for the party. If they are untrue then people have been deliberately spreading damaging rumours about a senior party employee. That could seriously undermine their position and the party would owe a duty towards an employee to deal with that situation. So following your meeting with Chris did you discuss this point with anyone in the party so it could be dealt with and if not why?

    Finally you, correctly, say “these events also shed light on some very serious inadequacies in our party’s procedures and policies at the time”. Did you raise these inadequacies with anyone so they could be addressed. In particular the Bones Commission was taking evidence at around this time and in it’s report made a number of recommendations about staffing matters. Why did you not make submissions to them in the light of your experiences?

  • Helen Dudden 9th Mar '13 - 4:11pm

    I feel that I live in a mans world.

    Of course, women should have the same status as their male colleagues, the imbalance in some areas just prove this is not the case.

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