Lord Rennard’s membership of the Liberal Democrats restored by Party Committee

It’s been announced tonight that the suspension of Lord Rennard’s membership of the Liberal Democrats has been lifted, bringing to an end the disciplinary process against him.

From the BBC:

The former Lib Dem chief executive was suspended after being accused of bringing the party’s name into disrepute for failing to apologise over sexual harassment claims.

He apologised in May for his behaviour.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said the dropping of disciplinary proceedings had now brought the matter to a close.

A Party spokesperson is quoted as saying:

The Regional Parties Committee met this week to consider whether the party had been brought into disrepute by statements made by Lord Rennard, or on his behalf, following the publication of Alistair Webster’s conclusions.

It decided not to proceed with the disciplinary process against him. This brings the matter to a close and means the suspension of his membership is lifted.

This has been an exceptionally painful period for the Party. I wrote in January about the emotions going on in my mind.

What I’m going to say is as someone who has been broadly sympathetic to Chris Rennard in the almost 20 years I’ve known him and should be viewed in that context. I have no scores to settle and I’ve always had a cordial relationship with him.

This past year has been excruciating for me and for the party. There are people I care about on all sides of this. I may not be directly involved, but I feel like I’ve been emotionally boshed on the head with a sledgehammer. I shudder to think what it must be like for the people who have been at the centre of it all.

Tonight’s news is going to be difficult for many good liberals to come to terms with. There will be some who feel that serious allegations have not been dealt with appropriately. The party’s disciplinary process has certainly been found wanting.

I think it’s also important to note that the Party’s pain has been exacerbated by unhelpful and at times inflammatory comments made by people around Chris Rennard.

There will be much discussion of the total mess that has been the Party’s handling of this matter over the next few days. It is extremely important that the language that we use is temperate and respectful. We need to try to understand where people are coming from. As I said back in January:

There are very strong emotions involved in this and we need to respect where others are coming from and frame our remarks accordingly. It is possible to have these differences without letting them overwhelm our ability to function and work together.

To that end, all comments on this post  will be pre-moderated.

The one glimmer of hope is that we know that the party has made huge changes as a result of the seismic shock that this episode delivered. Tim Farron will shortly be outlining what they are. Allegations of this nature will be handled properly in the future.

This has not been the Liberal Democrats’ finest hour. There are no excuses. We are far from the only organisation to have handled such allegations in the wrong way but for a party that believes in justice and equality, we should have done better. In the future, we have to show that we can uphold the highest standards.

Update 22:45: Lord Rennard has released the following statement:

I am obviously pleased that all disciplinary investigations against me have been brought to an end and that the suspension of my party membership has been lifted.

This has taken a long time. The English Regional Parties Committee began a new disciplinary investigation in January 2014. I was informed by the Committee that this latest investigation was on the basis of, “media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publically since the announcement of the Webster report results.”

This investigation followed the one conducted last year by Alistair Webster QC, and which resulted in a finding of “no further action through insufficient evidence.”

I am grateful to Chris Willmore, a barrister, parliamentary candidate and now a law lecturer who acted as the ‘independent investigator’ in this latest process. She was extremely thorough in her approach. I was informed by telephone late this afternoon of the conclusion that “there would be no further action”. The rules provided for the investigator either to recommend “charges,” or to say that there was insufficient evidence to proceed further to a disciplinary hearing.

All allegations made about me have now been investigated thoroughly, including by the Metropolitan Police Service, and fell at the first hurdle as there was insufficient evidence to proceed further.

The English Appeals Panel confirmed in July that I could not be criticised over my reaction to the previous report by Alistair Webster QC, as I was not given sight of the report for eleven weeks. The worst that might be said of me in that independent report was that I may have inadvertently encroached on the “personal space” of some of the complainants, and I apologised for this to all four of them.

I remain a committed member of the Liberal Democrats and a strong believer in the principles of the party, as set out in the constitution, and based on the values that led me to join the Liberal Party in my teens.

Update 20/8/14 at 8:40 am

The BBC has Nick Clegg’s statement:

As Lord Rennard’s suspension was lifted, the deputy prime minister pledged a root and branch review of his party’s culture and processes.

He also signalled plans to reduce the burden of proof in disciplinary cases from criminal to civil.

“The Liberal Democrats have taken a long, hard look in the mirror since these allegations were made last year and I am confident that the party has changed,” Mr Clegg said.

“It is clear that a number of women in our party felt let down that the party failed to act on their complaints appropriately. I am determined that no member of our party should find themselves in that position again.”

Susan Gaszczak, one of the women who complained about Lord Rennard’s behaviour had this to say:

The party democracy obviously has no moral compass. They say we are credible, then fail to act on it and don’t see the impact this has on women and women voters.

Update: 10:45 am

Alison Goldsworthy condemned the decision, as reported by BBC Wales:

“Faced with the opportunity to take strong action, the Liberal Democrats have once more failed to act,” Ms Goldsworthy told BBC Wales.

“By failing to take action against Lord Rennard they have said that his behaviour, far more serious than I have ever made public, can go unpunished.

“That is quite wrong. It is an outcome of which the party should be ashamed.”

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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61 Comments

  • Harry Hayfield 19th Aug '14 - 10:27pm

    It is not often I am first to comment on something that is reported on by Lib Dem Voice, but I am sure that my sentiments will be echoed by lots of members namely “I am not entirely sure what to think about this news”

  • Joshua Dixon 19th Aug '14 - 10:32pm

    Terrible news. Not just for our party, but for women who want to make it in politics. The old boys club lives on.

  • This is fantastic news. I’m delighted.

  • Adam Robertson 19th Aug '14 - 10:53pm

    This has been an unedifying spectacle for the party because I am afraid, that both parties have suffered, as a result of this investigation, which is only led to more grey areas and more questions, which have not been answered.

    However, the case against Chris Rennard, was never proven beyond reasonable doubt and therefore, correctly, I think the party with a heavy heart, have done the right thing. We have to remember that, Chris Rennard, has been found by the police not to have a case to answer and the party’s investigation into Chris Rennard, seemed to be a halfway house option.

    However, I think Caron’s comment of the following is not helpful, “I think it’s also important to note that the Party’s pain has been exacerbated by unhelpful and at times inflammatory comments made by people around Chris Rennard”. I have a lot of respect for Caron and admire her opinion but I think in this instance, by having this sentence, still shows there is some fiscal anger within the party. They were only defending a colleague, who they thought was innocent, we have to respect that is there right. Ultimately, they have been proven right on this.

    As a party, we must heed lessons from this and move on with the positives, which can be taken out of this situation.

  • Grace Goodlad 19th Aug '14 - 10:59pm

    I lost all faith in the systems and processes that have led to this decision some months ago. Very worrying news.

  • suzanne fletcher 19th Aug '14 - 11:06pm

    Very relieved that it is now over and Chris can continue to be where he belongs. I am very sad that so many are so hurt in the process, meaning both Chris and his family and close friends as well as the women who are so upset too. I only hope the party processes genuinely are going to improve as Tim Farron says.
    We do all have to try to move on now though. Lots to do, and battles to fight together.
    I heard Mhopo Tutu earlier this year. she talked about imagining your grievance as a large pebble. imagine carrying the stone with you, all day and every day. then imagine how difficult it is to carry on life as you need to with that weighing you down. we cannot fight the battles we need to, on behalf of those who need us to to just that, if weighed down by past greivances and upsets.
    We are in politics because we want to make a difference to the lives and environment of people and communities. we do that together, not as individuals, and that makes us more effective. being in a party is supposed to help us, butsituations like this, for all sorts of reasons, pulls people back and apart.
    So I do hope we get our priorities right now, and people can work together for the battles for others.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '14 - 11:07pm

    It’s not terrible news Joshua. It may not be good news, but it’s not terrible. It is very important not to over-state the difficulties professional women face otherwise they can be put off entirely and we all lose. People should also not understate difficulties. It requires careful judgement, not one sided narratives.

    I don’t have strong opinions on the case, besides the burden of proof is too high, but these one sided narratives on a whole range of issues are very common within the party and very damaging.

  • Paul Pettinger 19th Aug '14 - 11:30pm

    This is the person that the Party and its then President chose to publicly lavish praise on and invite to address Conference at the Autumn Conference after he stopped being CEO. I don’t know what he said – I had walked out by then. Like Labour is a Party that includes some Socialists, so the Liberal Democrats are a Party that include some Liberals.

  • Joshua Dixon 19th Aug '14 - 11:30pm

    When good people and victims of this case are leaving the party over this, Eddie, I believe it IS terrible news.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Aug '14 - 11:30pm

    Adam, the only public commentary I made on this were sparked by comments by Alex Carlile which contained what could be construed as veiled threats to the women and which were way over the top – Henry VIII and North Korea? And then Chris Davies made comments about the allegations being no worse than an Italian man pinching someone’s bottom, really belittling the women.

    I have no problem with the friends who stood by Chris Rennard. If it was your friend or your brother or your dad, you would do exactly the same. I do have a problem with the two individuals I mentioned above whose advice to Rennard was, I believe, flawed and dragged this whole thing out, causing so much more pain for everyone, and whose comments were unnecessarily aggressive and unpleasant. They did no favours to anyone including Chris Rennard.

  • The next question is whether Rennard should ever again be considered for a post of responsibility within the Party.

    I would suggest that reinstatement as a member was justified, but, strictly as an ordinary member only.

  • Alisdair McGregor 19th Aug '14 - 11:34pm

    This is dreadful news, Rennard and those responsible for the anodyne response of the party to all this should all be ashamed.

    I’ve already been attacked – as a PPC – by opposition parties over the whole thing, and frankly it makes a mockery of the deep and genuine commitment I and many others in the party have to justice for sex offences.

    The sense of entitlement Rennard must have to insist on re-entry to a party where he clearly isn’t welcome is astounding. He makes Julian Assange look positively modest.

  • Bill Chapman 19th Aug '14 - 11:38pm

    This is juist the beginning of a long process of reflevction.

  • Adam Robertson 19th Aug '14 - 11:55pm

    Caron, thank you for replying back to me.

    I agree with you about what Chris Davies said and he immediately apologized. I think we all have to accept that he dealt with the situation, unprofessionaly, which he has apologized for. However, with Alex Carlile’s position, I am afraid I do have sympathy for because he rightly, he argues from a legal perspective, that both sides should have looked at Alastair Webster’s report. The party refused to allow Lord Rennard or his legal representative, Alex Carlile, to look at this.

    I think Alex Carlile, was trying to make the point, for a liberal party, not to allow the defendant a fair hearing, was not fair. This was because the defendant, could not refute the allegations made within the report. Now that is not fair, within a democratic society. Perhaps Alex Carlile, was over the top, in his rhetoric, but I can understand the issue he is trying to make,

    I am just sorry, that the party have failed both sides on this. We need to move on and accept the outcome.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Aug '14 - 12:13am

    Adam, Carlile made comments which were really insulting and could have been construed as intimidating, about the women. Those I think went beyond the remit of complaining about the process which, to be fair, we were all doing, because it was, to put it mildly, mince.

  • Robert Adamson 20th Aug '14 - 12:40am

    This news is not “dreadful” or “fantastic” – it is simply a decision with which we may agree (I do) or disagree. That is IT, a decision (like the one not to bring murder charges against a former Party leader!). Now let us move on and rebuild our Party, stop attacking our own people and work against Dave, Ed, Nigel & the other real villains in the Westminster pantomime!

  • “Adam, Carlile made comments which were really insulting and could have been construed as intimidating, about the women. Those I think went beyond the remit of complaining about the process which, to be fair, we were all doing, because it was, to put it mildly, mince.”

    Applauds loudly. This is the truth LDV. Pass this comment past Caron and see if she doesn’t mind it being published, seeing as you apparently have issues with non LibDem orthodoxy views. Oh, and see if Mike Hancock rings a bell.

  • I think we have all learned the lessons from this. Now with changes in procedures made, lets move on.

  • Simon McGrath 20th Aug '14 - 5:49am

    @Caron – what is it that Carlisle said that was insulting and could have been construed as intimidating?

  • If this is how the Liberal Democrat party behaves when alleged sexual harassment occurs within its own ranks, how on earth can it have the moral authority to challenge misconduct in other professions and organisations?

  • “frankly it makes a mockery of the deep and genuine commitment I and many others in the party have to justice for sex offences.”

    Comments like this are exactly why some many of us think the party’s treatment of CR has been shocking. “Sex offences”? Seriously? The police found insufficient evidence, the internal investigation found insufficient evidence, the only thing he was found guilty of was a possible encroachment of personal space. On that criterion probably half the population is a “sex offender”. If we’re going to consider him guilty based solely on the allegations then what was the point of having the investigation in the first place?

  • I appreciate Caron’s (as usual) balanced and thoughtful article, however I have to take issue with the remark about not judging those who stood by Chris because of personal connections, as if that’s the only possible reason anyone might stand up for him. He’s not my friend or my brother or my dad, the closest I’ve ever been to him is seeing him across a large room at conference. You don’t have to know or like the man to think he’s been treated very poorly indeed, and you don’t have to have a personal connection to someone to care about principles like justice and due process. Liberals are supposed to care about that kind of stuff, even in relation to people they don’t know.

    That said, I agree that Carlisle’s statements were over the top and unhelpful. But insinuating that someone is a sex offender, or talking about keeping him away from young female candidates for their “safety”, as some of the complainants have done, is even more over the top and unhelpful. Let’s not pretend that CR’s side have been the only ones to make inflammatory comments. Neither side have covered themselves in glory here.

  • George Lund 20th Aug '14 - 7:20am

    I’m desperately sad that Lord Rennard couldn’t see that the best thing for the party would have been to go quietly and find something else to do for a few years. On that basis his credentials as a sound strategist and organiser seem thoroughly debunked.

    From my (far removed) perspective, the case was proven on the balance of probabilities, on the basis of multiple, independent, credible accounts of poor behaviour. The disciplinary committee’s decision is therefore manifestly wrong and can only prolong the pain this is causing the party (not to mention the individuals involved on both sides).

    Tragic.

  • Mack (not a Lib Dem) 20th Aug '14 - 7:29am

    All Liberal Democrat women should consider joining a party that has all women short lists.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Aug '14 - 8:32am

    @simon He made very unhelpful remarks about the women in several news interviews and the Mail on Sunday article which I linked to in my January article.

  • Richard Butchart 20th Aug '14 - 9:07am

    I feel totally betrayed by this mess. So much so that I will not be renewing my membership.
    Lord Rennard has not done the party any favours by his excessively legalistic approach to the issue.
    The Party has not advanced the cause of womens’ rights by its mealy mouthed approach

  • This has been a sorry mess from which I hope the party has learnt some serious lessons. The behaviour of some in the old boys club that is the House of Lords was less than helpful and as for Chris Davies well an anger management course might be useful there. I for one will absolutely NOT be resigning from the party over this.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '14 - 9:58am

    It seems to be considered permissible to discuss this case on the basis of making the worst possible assumptions about Chris Rennard’s behaviour as reported by those making allegations against him, and publicly criticise him and the party on the basis these assumptions are fact, but not to discuss any other possible interpretations of the evidence given. It appears not to be possible even to make the point that the same action may be interpreted in different ways by different people, and we don’t have a way of showing for sure what was inside someone’s head in order to be able to make a conclusion.

  • Alisdair McGregor mentions ‘sex offences’, yet I have hardly seen anything that Rennard did or was alleged to have done that constituted a ‘sex offence’, at least not in any legalistic sense – though possibly in a social sense, but does the Party want to institute a no touching rule?. That the women involved decided to complain anonymously obviously hampered a response. The most significant problem is how the issue has been allowed to drag on and been blown up. The media have had a field day urging the Party to take hasty peremptory and illiberal action.

    If Rennard’s behaviour had been such a problem, I would have expected more women to have come forward, on the contrary women such as Miranda Green have expressed incredulity and said they have not seen anything that might be improper. From an outside perspective the whole affair is mystifying, which unfortunately has llowed people to jump to wild conclusions.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '14 - 10:05am

    Alisdair McGregor

    The sense of entitlement Rennard must have to insist on re-entry to a party where he clearly isn’t welcome is astounding. He makes Julian Assange look positively modest.

    If Julian Assange were being treated as Rennard has been treated, firstly it would be written up as if it was a foregone conclusion that he was a rapist, and that anyone who did not agree with that should be treated as if they condoned rape. Secondly, it would be written up solely in these terms. No discussion about why there might be others who had a vested interest in making these allegations stick would be permitted.

  • The processes in the Party were comparable to those in other political parties and voluntary associations. They proved to be inadequate. We should have changed them earlier but, understandably, our priorities were elsewhere – on campaigning and getting people elected. It has taken a major episode like this – unfortunately happening to be in our party – to bump these things up the priority list. Alleged faults and misdemeanours can only be investigated on the evidence given and the rules in place at the relevant time. It is possible to disagree with an outcome but support the process – that is how we do things in this party and in a democratic society which values the rule of law. There is nothing to be gained by seeking to change the past: shouting at the present won’t make the past go away. ALL of us, at some point, will have overstepped a mark at some point, will have made someone uncomfortable by telling the wrong joke, dismissing an idea (or person) others hold dear with too much enthusiasm, asking too much of someone’s time, energy or loyalty, letting assertive leadership drift into bullying, allowing (or proving unable to prevent) our emotions and insecurities being show in a variety of ways that can encroach on people’s personal space. I have been both the victim and the offender. This business of being a human being is awkward. We get things wrong, even if no malice is involved, and we often cause more distress when forced to confront the consequences of what we’ve done without self-destruction, having to defend our intentions if not the ramifications of our failings. I have deliberately kept some distance from the facts of this case. Whatever my own judgement on the facts, that is irrelevant if due process has happened. As far as I can see, due process has been followed as far as that is technically possible in the circumstances. In future, the processes will be different, better and able to deal with things earlier. That is a good thing. It also means that we ALL have to be more careful not to offend or impose upon our colleagues in a variety of ways – while, hopefully, remaining rounded human beings relating to each other openly and honestly.

    Please do use the new procedures to steer appropriate conduct where necessary. However, please be both calm and alert: protection measures and party procedures should not themselves be used as weapons of abuse. I have been the victim of someone using a motion of censure to attempt to silence my voice, accusing me of misogyny because I disagreed with her on an organisational matter (with my view being subsequently vindicated a few years later). I was bullied and hectored and ridiculed in a concerted campaign. I was nearly broken by it. In the absence of an apology from this woman, I will never campaign for her and probably not with her. Despite that experience, I remain in the same party as her and wish her good fortune politically, even though the memory of the effect she had on me (however motivated) can still invoke nausea.

  • Chris Young – if I am a low or middle ranking civil servant there is a world of difference between a single badly aimed joke from a colleague of my own rank and persistent unwanted touching from the Permanent Secretary!

  • peter tyzack 20th Aug '14 - 11:53am

    Nick says ‘the Party has taken a long hard look in the mirror’, I wonder if Chris has, and if so thought about whether, as a strategist, he might have handled the whole thing a lot better from the beginning, and hence done less embarrassing harm to our Party.
    We should remember that ‘acquitted through insufficient evidence’ isn’t the same as ‘innocent’, especially when the complaints were deemed ‘credible’. Puzzling perhaps that no woman has come forward to say they acquiesced to his advances….

  • I’ve never met or interacted with Rennard, but know many who have,

    We need to separate the poor handling of this whole saga (by everyone /”the party”) from the result announced today. I worry that the former is clouding a lot of judgements of the latter.

    I really hope we end up with a decent process that doesn’t mean we’re all treading over each others toes in future.

  • @ peter tyzack
    “We should remember that ‘acquitted through insufficient evidence’ isn’t the same as ‘innocent’ ”

    Very true, but it isn’t the same as ‘definitely guilty, the dirty letch’ either, which is the tone of much of the criticism levelled at him (I don’t mean by you, just in general). I can’t applaud enough to what Matthew Huntbach said upthread.

    I also think perhaps too much of the blame is laid at the door of the leadership rather than Alistair Webster. The party made a complete mess of the initial handling but then took the pretty reasonable step of calling in an independent QC to investigate. Unfortunately the QC they chose came up with the most ridiculous and unsatisfactory findings possible which simply escalated the problem rather than solving it.

  • Former LD member and council candidate in camden. Unfortunately, as some have alluded to above, this is all about symbolism and perception. I joined the lib Dems at university as I thought they were the party of equality and open justice. Now they have readmitted Rennard with no meaningful contrition (beyond some unhelpful legalese on personal space). After passing the secret courts legislation, increasing tuition fees (after signing a pledge guaranteeing the opposite) and now this debacle, I’ve now moved from a waverer for 2015 to a definitely not. The message this sends to the electorate (and particularly women) who aren’t interested in internal party procedures is awful.

  • We all need to learn lessons. If we see or become aware of bad behaviour we need to call it out. To often we let things go we really shouldn’t

  • Gareth Hartwell 20th Aug '14 - 1:17pm

    I think the fundamental issue here is with the nature of political parties who want to challenge the old establishment of Labour and Conservatives. For as long as I can remember, the Lib Dems have been an underfunded amateur club of volunteers who have punched above their weight and done a good job of changing the usual order. It is not surprising that such an informal organisation does not find it easy to adhere to the standards of formal governance of a major institution or a properly funded company.

    This and similar incidents has made me question whether the model of small political parties such as Lib Dems (and others) is sustainable. Individuals are always likely to have disproportionate influence in amateur organisations where they have essential skills and are prepared to put in huge amounts of personal effort. But this isn’t appropriate when the party is in a position of major influence (let alone Government) and members rightly want to ensure that there are objective criteria applied in appointments and selections.

    Maybe we let down members and voters when we pretend to be a large national organisation when this is not really true. But I am reluctant to accept the alternative of giving up and leaving the old establishment parties to themselves when they have failed in different ways so often in the past.

  • People in the party talk and I think most active members will have formed their own opinion of the rights and wrongs of this case.

    A long period of invisibility from Rennard is now called for.

  • Deborah Newton-Cook 20th Aug '14 - 2:13pm

    Interesting debate.

    Personally, I am very glad that Lord Chris Rennard has had his Liberal Democrat Party card reinstated and that all disciplinary proceedings summarily dismissed. He has been dragged to hell and back during the last few years. As a member of the Party for 33 years, a Candidate in a General Election, and three times in the European Parliament elections (including 2014), I have been embarrassed how the Party could have messed up so badly. And in public.

    When campaigning in by-elections I have always found Chris unassuming and very effective on campaign strategy. He was good fun in the Campaign HQ kitchen where he was also up for making tea and coffee for our activists, Not all our MPs or high Party staff would do that. (I have also cleaned the toilet coming back from a delivery round – also an essential job).

    Well, as we have a General Election coming up, I am glad that the Party has finally seen sense and stopped this witch hunt.

    The Party needs to put new and transparent procedures in place to deal with accusations of inappropriate behaviour by either men, or women. And the whole process must be open, so that all concerned know exactly where they are. It should also not be protracted.

    I wish all those going to Glasgow Conference all the best, as we prepare for the GE and local elections.

    Regards,

    Deborah Newton-Cook

  • Deborah Newton-Cook 20th Aug '14 - 2:35pm

    Interesting debate.

    Personally, I am very glad that Lord Chris Rennard has had his Party card reinstated and that all disciplinary procedures, summarily dismissed. He has been dragged to hell and back over the last few years. I am embarrassed that my Party could have messed up so badly. And in public.

    I have been a member of the Party for 33 years, a Candidate in a General Election, and three times for the European Parliament elections (including 2014). Whenever I met Chris during a by-election campaign I always found him unassuming and very effective on strategy. He is also good fun in the HQ kitchen, where he is also up for making tea and coffee for the Party activists. Not all our MPs or high level staff will do that. Let alone clean the toilet, which I do as it is an essential job – even when you are a Candidate.

    The Party needs a new, open and transparent procedure to deal with acccusations of inappropriate behaviour by either men, or women. All parties to the process should have access to all the relevant documents and reports as soon as they have been concluded. Not 11 weeks. The Webster report has still not been published.

    Well, we have a General Election to fight and local elections, too. Lord Rennard will – again – I hope, play a key role in our Campaign. I do not want to see the Party get another tonking like we did in the EP elections this year where we lost 11/12 seats.

    So, my best wishes to all who are going to Glasgow Conference.

    Regards,

    Deborah Newon-Cook

  • I am afraid, in the case of Alex Carlile, this is par for the course. I am sure as a lawyer, he would tell me this is fair comment, he comes over often as lacking tact, and displaying considerable arrogance. Had I been in Chris Rennard’s shoes, I would have tried to dissuade him from “speaking up for” me. Again, opinion, but I am genuinely surprised he is still a member of the Lib Dems. Sorry.

  • Russel McPhate 20th Aug '14 - 4:26pm

    The decision to restore Chris Rennard’s membership was correct and inevitable. Did he behave inappropriately? On a balance of probabilities, Yes, as the Webster report said but that, of course, was not the standard required. As the Webster Report also said it was highly unlikely that the higher standard of proof would have been attained.
    All that means that although we undoubtedly made a complete hash of things as a Party had the procedure been followed correctly the outcome would have been no different!
    After that, it always ridiculous to try to discipline Chris Rennard for not apologising for something the Party could not establish that he had done!
    As for his own attitude to this, he has shown a complete lack of empathy or concern for the women involved and his high handedness has done him no credit at all.

  • Just Liberal 20th Aug '14 - 4:44pm

    Every party makes mistakes.No one individual has all wisdom. It is time to say – let’s stop tearing ourselves apart. Let’s act to make sure that our actions and decisions in the future learn the lessons of the past. Only then will we honour the commitment and sacrifices of the scores of thousands to whom Liberalism was and is a cause worth every ounce of effort and second of time that we could muster.Otherwise we will be the ones who bring the party into disrepute.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '14 - 4:54pm

    Huw Prior

    I joined the lib Dems at university as I thought they were the party of equality and open justice. Now they have readmitted Rennard with no meaningful contrition (beyond some unhelpful legalese on personal space).

    So would you prefer a party where a member can be expelled because the press have declared him guilty or the leadership doesn’t want him to be a member, and that person has no right to a defence? Do consider where that could lead to. Imagine these accusation were made against Boris Johnson. I suspect the press would let him get away with making a silly joke about it and that would be it. It seems to me part of the issue here is that Rennard has no-one in a position of influence in the national media or in those who are now influential in the party’s current leadership who is a friend of his and so would be prepared to stand up for him, but there are plenty in these places who have a vested interest in seeing him go.

    No evidence has been given that Rennard persisted in trying to touch women after they objected to him, nor that he promised rewards if they went along with him, nor that he made threats when they didn’t. Yet the case has been covered and discussed as if it did involve this sort of menacing.

    Rennard has apologised for “inadvertently encroaching on the personal space” of the women who made complaints. It is possible that physical action on his part which was entirely innocent was misinterpreted by the women. It is possible that he had wanted to initiate some sort of romantic encounter with them. If so, yes, it would clearly have been inappropriate under the circumstances, but is making a clumsy pass and swiftly withdrawing when it is not reciprocated really something that deserves what has been thrown at him since? There was a time when lonely young men were encouraged to join clubs and societies because “you might meet a nice young lady there”. Should all such people be put in fear of their careers being wrecked if perhaps they are a bit personally inept about how to move on such things?

    As I said, we don’t actually know and can’t, because how can we prove what was in someone’s mind? If what was really in Rennard’s mind was the second of the possibilities I gave, I can see how the virulence of the attacks made on him since would push him into clamming up and only being willing to admit what he has admitted. It seems to me the situation has been left with everyone feeling unsatisfied because of the way over-the-top way in which this case has been commented on. And it seems to me that Rennard has many political enemies who were very happy to see it go that way.

  • Liberal Neil 20th Aug '14 - 5:08pm

    Gareth – you make a fair point, but there has also been lots of commentary about similar problems in the two bigger parties.

  • John Penson 20th Aug '14 - 5:17pm

    Perhaps Public Opinion Polls in the near future will give an indication that this decision was right or wrong for the party

  • I believe the party owe Chris Rennard an apology for the disgraceful way he has been treated.

  • David Evershed 20th Aug '14 - 6:31pm

    Without access to the Webster report I don’t see how any of us can draw any conclusion.

  • Ruth Bright 20th Aug '14 - 6:56pm

    Matthew Huntbach – is a hand up a skirt “open to interpretation”? What pray would be the political spin on such a gesture?

  • Tony Dawson 20th Aug '14 - 7:48pm

    Matthew H, I am intrigued at your concept of ‘trying to touch’ after a rebuff. Seriously intrigued.

    The real problem when you have someone in power is that, irrespective of whether they wish to exercise it, anyone denying them what they apparently want to achieve feels that they might potentially be disadvantaged as a result. It becomes increasingly-important, therefore, that the Party has a mechanism of telling any person so-accused (and reported at high level)to stop it right there whatever their other skills and attributes are which the Party finds valuable. The failure has not been ‘The Party’ s. It has been the failure of specific individuals within the Party who could have sorted this problem out for good. Will these people ever be identified and criticised by the Party? Don’t be silly.

  • Richard Dean 20th Aug '14 - 7:56pm

    Whatever system is put in place, I hope it will be able to distinguish between inept mistakes, offensive behaviour, and abuse of power. Boundaries are not always be clear, signals can have multiple meanings, and different people can interpret the same situation differently. I also hope that the system focusses on healing rather than revenge.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '14 - 8:09pm

    Ruth Bright

    Matthew Huntbach – is a hand up a skirt “open to interpretation”? What pray would be the political spin on such a gesture?

    No, it is wrong, and if he did that he deserves to be punished for it. You are missing my point here. I am putting forward the extremes of possible interpretations of what happened. My actual point was that I suspect the reality is somewhere between these two, but the extreme nature of the way Rennard has been attacked on this has led to him clamming up, and I very much wish he hadn’t.

  • paul barker 20th Aug '14 - 8:51pm

    We have made a terrible mess of this whole affair & we should say so whenever it comes up. The best thing now would be if if Rennard quietly fades from view & drops out of Public life. If he were to attempt to get involved with The Party again he should be taken on one side & politely but firmly told his services are not required, now or ever again. I am not an activist but if I was I would certainly refuse to work with Rennard.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Aug '14 - 11:02pm

    Tony Dawson

    It becomes increasingly-important, therefore, that the Party has a mechanism of telling any person so-accused (and reported at high level)to stop it right there whatever their other skills and attributes are which the Party finds valuable.

    Yes, I have not said anything that disagrees with that.

    I wish people would actually listen to the points I am making rather than jump to conclusions. We have here a case where one person says one thing, other people said something else, and there really is no way to prove what actually happened. There’s a genuine difficulty here. If the accused person resolutely sticks to the line that nothing happened that was intended to be as the accusers say it was, we are stuck. I don’t think the fact that we are stuck means we are some deeply anti-woman party as has been alleged, because I think whatever mechanisms were in place, it would still end up stuck like this, unless we are actually prepared to throw out the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

    Throwing out the principle of innocent until proven guilty would, I feel, be a VERY dangerous thing to do. If we say that all it requires is for an accusation to be made against someone, and then they must instantly be dismissed, can people not see how that could be open to misuse?

    As I have already said, I see the way Rennard has put it, that these were just innocent physical contacts which were misinterpreted by the women and nothing was done by him that was for gratification, as a possibility, though I think a distant one. However, if we start with this accusatory tone where if Rennard makes any admissions whatsoever of getting some gratification from touching he is condemned as an evil monster who must be expelled forever from the party, I think it can be seen why he would stick to that line. And then since it can’t be absolutely proven it just wasn’t like that (even if it was unlikely), we are stuck.

    So I think if we were in a position where we could talk in a less condemnatory tone about it, we might have got an opening up and an admission of something that sounds more likely. I think it would have helped greatly if we had got an admission from Rennard that, yes, he was getting a bit of gratification from it, and that yes he realises it was a damn silly thing to do, and very wrong in the context. If we could get this, and in return accept that as he didn’t use threats or follow up on it, he’s not the sort of monstrous abuser which we have seen in many other cases, I think we would have reached a far more satisfactory conclusion than the one we are at now.

    I’m sorry that I have this terrible habit of trying to think carefully about situations, and trying to come up with a sort of middle road, which generally ends up with both extremes attacking me for my careful thoughts and accusing me of being one of the extremists on the other side. And here I go again. But that’s why I’m a liberal.

  • Deborah Newton-Cook 21st Aug '14 - 12:01am

    I agree with both firstly, Andi Ali, and also Matthew Huntchback.
    CR deserves an apology.
    I hope that he will not be ostracised in our Party – it will serve no good.
    Likewise, if we do not heal wounds.
    We need to work as a team as next year’s elections will prove very difficult.
    My 10 year old daughter – a Lib Deb Party member – who went campaigning with me for the European Parliament elections – is threatening to resign, because she thinks that the Party ought to buck its ideas up. (Cette à dire, il faut qu’ ils se faissaent QQS). She is tri-lingual EN, FR and Flemish.
    We should be recruiting members, not losing them!
    Does anybody speak anything other than English?
    I hope so, because there are a lot of votes out there to get. However, eligible voters have to register to vote. Of course.
    I would genuinely like to know, because we have many linguistic communities to appeal to, not only in the UK, but also on the Overseas Voters lists.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 21st Aug '14 - 1:20pm

    Just read the Guardian on this saga http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/20/lord-rennard-lib-dems-saga-attitude-to-women – just reporting it as it comes from a direction you would think has common cause with our party – well left of centre anyway.

  • stuart moran 21st Aug '14 - 3:49pm

    Hi Deborah

    I am not sure that it is relevant to the thread but I am a (fairly) fluent French speaker having lived in Suisse Romande for a few years

    I do say septante, huitante and nonante instead of soixante-dix, quatre-vingts et quatre-vingts-dix though……..

  • Oh dear, another fine mess we, this party, has got itself in, will it never stop? There must be a common denominator in all this.

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Aug '14 - 2:20pm

    There are several common denominators. But they must remain nameless. 🙁

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