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