Today’s front pages: the Chris Rennard allegations dominate

Today’s front pages of the newspapers are about as grim as you might imagine after the weekend’s events…

rennard front pages - 25 feb 2013

I’ve not had chance to read through all the press yet. Two that have caught my eye are this critical, but fair-minded, editorial in The Guardian:

Like the BBC over Jimmy Savile in recent weeks, the Liberal Democrats have faced difficult press allegations in recent days. Last night the Liberal Democrats found themselves scrambling to clarify whether they looked in the other direction over claims about their former chief executive Chris Rennard, allegations which he strongly denies. With a critical byelection looming this week, the political party has not been particularly sure-footed in dealing with the challenge, any more than the BBC, in a different set of circumstances, proved to be over Savile.

… the Liberal Democrats’ initial response to the claims about Lord Rennard has echoes of others’ responses. They too struggled to disentangle the need to do the right thing with protecting their institutional reputation. In each case there is undoubtedly an awareness that they face articulate and dangerous enemies, internally and in the media. But this is not enough to explain, let alone excuse, the generally inept responses.

Last night, Nick Clegg was forced to admit knowing about general concerns over Lord Rennard. It is unlikely to be the end of the matter, any more than it has been in the problems faced by the BBC. In all such cases, the problem is not just the allegation itself but what to do about the claims and the publicity. The fear that there may be more risk to acting than not acting is a genuine disincentive. These matters are rarely straightforward. Yet, in spite of the real difficulties, the right thing is to respond as promptly and fairly as possible to allegations rather than push them away in the hope they will somehow disappear.

The other is a more typically partisan report in the Telegraph which has an explosive headline — Revealed: Nick Clegg was personally told of Lord Rennard claims in September 2008 — which looks to me to contain little more than what is already known and in Nick Clegg’s statement: that he was aware of general concerns, but not the specific allegations made in Channel 4 News last week.

You can read Nick Clegg’s statement here, and my initial thoughts on it here.

* 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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8 Comments

  • I still maintain this is a deliberate “sh**storm” calculated to cause maximum damage at the most delicate of times by our political opponents, particularly the Conservatives who are desperate not to lose Eastleigh and if they do, they are determined not to let us get any credit for it.

    How could the leadership have taken disciplinary action when apparently no specific (as opposed to general) accusations had been brought forward? It is as if someone were to be taken to court without being charged of a specific, particular incident of crime.

    This is not to minimise the nature of the alleged offences. But without any apparent formal complaint, how was Nick Clegg supposed to do any more than he did?

    This whole affair just reeks of conspiracy by the usual suspects who are desperate to get the Liberal Democrats out of the way and go back to the old two-party duopoly.

    I am still waiting for the impartial external inquiry into how Tony Blair managed to convince the whole of his party to vote for an illegal war costing billions and thousands of lives. Knowing who knew what and when and what disciplinary actions were taken (i.e. nil) would be of far more relevance to politics than the current smear campaign against the Lib Dems.

  • It’s not appropriate to discuss the allegations about Chris Rennard. However, it is entirely appropriate to discuss Nick Clegg’s handling of this situation. In the minds of the public, Clegg has completely changed his stance from claiming he didn’t know anything to now saying he was told something unspecific. Those headlines wouldn’t be there today if it wasn’t for the fact that Clegg denied knowing anything in the first place. If he remains in his position at the end of the week is anybody’s guess, but if he does then he will not be helping the Lib Dems in attracting voters at the next election. Rennard was an unknown figure to the public before these allegations and this issue would have blown over (with regards to its impact on the LDs), in my opinion. Clegg’s behaviour in appearing to change his tune has made the whole thing look suspicious to many people, even if Clegg did do the right thing with regards to the allegations that were brought to him.

  • Charles Boney 25th Feb '13 - 9:51am

    Presumably all those using the Rennard excuse to have a go at the Lib Dems will also spend the 2 minutes needed to search other party names + sex + abuse and see the lists and chat about a whole host of not-properly-investigated-allegations? Perhaps the Guardian and the Daily Mail will start looking at the other Party procedures as well but perhaps they wont have time in a busy week to start looking until after Thursday?

    This is not to excuse anyone for anything; I have been impressed by the rational, firm and authoritative manner in which both Simon and Tim have discussed what happens now. But the timing of all this …………

  • The press of all people and places! What hypocrisy.

    Tony Greaves

  • Its probably not helpful for us to discuss the details but we probably will anyway. If Clegg didnt meet any of the victims & all he had to go on was vague rumours, what more was he supposed to do ? ” Innocent till proven guilty” is fairly central to what we are.

  • Clegg’s ‘management’ handling of the situation is about the best he could have done (unless the enquiry shows that there were formal complaints, in which case he is in very hot water) – however his political judgement in saying one thing and then having to go back on it was very poor.

  • “I am still waiting for the impartial external inquiry into how Tony Blair managed to convince the whole of his party to vote for an illegal war costing billions and thousands of lives.” But Tony Blair did not convince the whole of his party to vote for the Iraq War. About 139 Labour MPs voted against it. Many people in his party vociferously opposed the war. A higher percentage than in the Tory Party. Those who voted in favour of the war were worldly, educated adults not impressionable children. They have only themselves to blame if they voted for a war that turned out to be a disaster. … But that’s not relevant to the current allegations. To dismiss these harassment allegations as some kind of media conspiracy seems to imply that those who have stepped up with allegations have somehow been put up to it by mysterious dark forces. So who are these dark forces and how could they have persuaded women to make such serious allegations?

  • All we have are allegations against Chris which have not appeared by coincidence. Perhaps it’s a good time to remember how much our Party owes to Chris Rennard.

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