Nick Clegg’s statement on Chris Rennard: 5 key points

It’s just over an hour since we published Nick Clegg’s statement concerning the allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour levelled against Lord (Chris) Rennard. Here are some quick, initial thoughts:

1) Nick Clegg has stuck by his position, repeated earlier today by Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, that he “did not know about these allegations until Channel 4 informed the party of them shortly before they were broadcast.” However, he was aware of “indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct” in 2008, his first year as party leader. He asked Danny Alexander to put these allegations to Chris Rennard, who denied them. We can expect a whole lot more questions around what exactly was known and how rigorously the party’s investigations were. Already right-wing commentators like Fraser Nelson are trying to read sub-texts into why Nick ‘dragged’ Danny into it — perhaps because it’s the truth, Fraser?

2) Chris Rennard’s resignation on health grounds in June 2009 will also be re-subjected to scrutiny. Here’s the statement he made then. It’s worth remembering that, at the time, any speculation about the reasons revolved around his expenses claims — see for instance this post by Mark Littlewood, then blogging as a Lib Den member at Liberal Vision — rather than the allegations that are now being circulated. Chris was subsequently cleared by the parliamentary authorities of breaching any expenses rules.

3) Nick Clegg is angry, genuinely angry, at the press’s reporting, particularly today’s papers. “I am angry and outraged at the suggestion that I would not have acted if these allegations had been put to me. … I will not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs.” He makes a point of saying he has spoken to one of the women who appeared on Channel 4 News last week — he doesn’t name her, but I would assume she’s his former special adviser, Bridget Harris — to externally validate this: ” I have today spoken to one of the women in the broadcast who I respect and admire and who confirmed that she had never raised the issue with me.”

4) Significantly, Nick has announced that the review into the allegations and the party’s response to them will be independently chaired. This is a welcome move — as one of the women who has made a complaint, Alison Smith, tweeted afterwards:

It will also be a relief for Tim Farron, the party president, who would have been placed in the impossible position of leading an inquiry into the actions of his party colleagues and own leader. Tim has, I understand, been pushing for an independent review. The party would probably have announced one sooner had Nick Clegg not been on a weekend’s break in Spain at half-term (which I don’t suppose turned out to be very relaxing).

5) This weekend has been a pretty gruesome one for the party. We can expect it to get a whole lot worse. Whenever personnel issues are involved in any organisation there will be horror stories that emerge. And any journalist or political spectator who thinks only the Lib Dems have uncomfortable truths to confront is kidding themselves. But confront them, we must. Nick’s penultimate sentence was his most crucial (and it’s one that’s in danger of getting lost as the media pursues the political angle, and ignores the human one):

The important thing is that we respect the women who have come forward and do everything to get to the truth.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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11 Comments

  • Good post.

    And yes, the Lab and Con parties are keeping a low profile because they know full well that every party has skeletons, and they will not want their cupboards opened right now when there’s a media feeding frenzy on.

  • ‘ “indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct” in 2008, his first year as party leader. He asked Danny Alexander to put these allegations to Chris Rennard ‘

    I think he needs to be more specific about the non-specific if he hopes to end the speculation.

  • “We can expect a whole lot more questions around what exactly was known and how rigorously the party’s investigations were.”

    If the complaints were informal that would have seriously hampered the rigorousness with which the party could have investigated. What was Nick supposed to do, sack Chris Rennard based on anonymous allegations which, by definition, he would have been unable to properly defend himself against (since he denied them at the time and still denies them)?

    I went on a line manager’s training day last year (for my job, I should add, nothing to do with the party) and they went through the guidelines for dealing with complaints about bullying and sexual harrassment. If the complainant wants to remain anonymous and have the complaint dealt with informally, then the main action the manager is supposed to take is to speak to the alleged harrasser and tell them the behaviour must stop and that further action may follow if further complaints are received. In other words, pretty much what Nick Clegg says was done in this case.

    Obviously, there should still be an inquiry to make sure such procedures were followed properly, and if any lessons can be learned as to how to handle it better in future then great, but all the synchronised chest beating seems premature to say the least.

    At least LDV is no longer mentioning this situation in the same breath as the Jimmy Saville case, which I think most victims of actual sexual assault would find bewildering (to be diplomatic). We’re talking here about likely unprofessional conduct and allegations of inappropriate propositions towards adult colleagues, not the sexual molestation of underage girls.

  • I agree that the non-specific nature of Nick Clegg’s somewhat angry and petulant response will only open the party to further questions. These are allegations, and no comment can be made about the truth of what may or may not have occurred, but it seems to me to be very depressing that this issue (ie allegations of a sexual nature and potential abuse of power) are seen as a nuisance and getting in the way of the party’s potential success in Eastleigh. If there is to be any change in politics then the hard work of real respect and equality needs to start now. I suspect that many women will be familiar with the scenario of these allegations in their working lives. Why not stop wingeing about how it may affect polling and start to put in place proper policies and zero tollerance of innapropriate behaviour. You may even attract more female candidates and voters and really be the party of change.

  • Scratchy headed amazement. Has someone written a book called “How Not To Handle A Political Crises” and are the top of the Party testing the theories contained within?

    You (Stephen) yourself obviously realised that an independent investigation was needed days ago, but now you seem to be suggesting that it couldn’t be announced because NC was on holiday? He is the Deputy PM, surely he can’t have been out of touch, why wasn’t he dragged by the ear to a camera to make the statement on Friday? He could also have made a statement at the same time about the historic “indirect and non-specific concerns” at the same time.

    As it is, it just looks like you’re being forced to go down the independent route, that the truth is being dug out bit by bit and political double talk is in full flow. It all looks very amateurish and messy really.

    Contrary to the wishful thinking of some, it would seem that the Labour Party may make a meal of it and not keep a low profile, I think their statement (at the end of the Fraser Nelson article) shows that they are going to use the “they only owned up because they were forced to” line for some time.

  • Leah Darbyshire 25th Feb '13 - 8:04am

    Hi,
    Please can you make the email address for the Review more obvious – I saw a different email address in an earlier statement posted on here by Tim Gordon (the CEO one). That email rebounded and I had to search around to find that it had been updated to the Whistleblower one. I am glad it has been updated and that only Kate will check it as I was worried that if the CEO had an assistant they may not be independent. I am a former Party member and employee
    wishing to contribute to the Review including actually some positive suggestions of simple steps I think could be taken to change the culture and protect female staff e.g. at residential weekends based on some experiences I had. Just hope the Party will actually take these on board as my husband is sceptical that it will do anything about any of this. Thanks.

  • Leah Darbyshire 25th Feb '13 - 8:08am

    I wanted to add that my comments/contribution are general and not relating to Chris Rennard. Thanks.

  • Catherine, with respect, I think we all need to steer clear of presuming to speak for “most victims of sexual assault”, whose legal definition does include any unwanted sexual touching.

  • “I went on a line manager’s training day last year (for my job, I should add, nothing to do with the party) and they went through the guidelines for dealing with complaints about bullying and sexual harrassment. If the complainant wants to remain anonymous and have the complaint dealt with informally, then the main action the manager is supposed to take is to speak to the alleged harrasser and tell them the behaviour must stop and that further action may follow if further complaints are received. In other words, pretty much what Nick Clegg says was done in this case.”

    The most obvious of several problems with this line is that Lord Rennard is saying that he was not aware of any complaint ever having been made against him during the time that he worked for the party. This seems quite impossible to reconcile with the Clegg/Alexander version. I don’t know what the explanation is, but it suggests someone is not being straightforward about what happened.

  • Helen Dudden 25th Feb '13 - 9:56am

    Again, further distractions on the subject of the problems within government. Of course, we are all not perfect, but this will of course distract from housing , the economy, and other issues that should be more important.

    I think quite sadly, we are talking about something that should have been resolved sometime ago, if the contents of the article are true or not. That is the key factor in the article.

  • Jennie – fair enough, perhaps that was badly worded. To rephrase, if I had been forced or coerced into sexual activity against my will, I would find it very inappropriate for someone to make any kind of comparison – however oblique – between my experience and the kind of inappropriate touching / propositioning alleged here (especially, but not exclusively, if I had been an underage girl at the time of the experience).

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