Call Clegg: “There were serious mistakes and the women were let down”

We might not have blamed Nick Clegg if he’d stayed under the duvet with a detective novel rather than turn up for his weekly Call Clegg session on LBC. Our leader is not one to duck out of things, though, and deserves respect for not hiding away and allowing himself to be quizzed on live radio. Clearly he was going to be asked  about the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard (which the peer strenuously denies) and what he had done about them.

For the first time he acknowledged that although the main reason for the former Chief Executive’s resignation was health, this issue was in the background:

Well obviously this was all in the background.  I mean, look I became like any new leader of any organisation, political party, any organisation, I wanted to make sure that the organisation reflected my priorities, my values, I felt it was the time, it was time for a change at the top of the kind of professional party.  His health was poor and that was the immediate reason why he left but of course these things were in the background but his ill health was the immediate reason why he stood down.

Nick was also quick to admit that the party had made mistakes:

I hope anyone who knows me and I so much believe that it is crucial that you treat people with respect and dignity in everything you do. That’s what I expect of people in the organisation that I lead.  That clearly did not happen here to put it mildly, there were some very serious mistakes and the women were not listened to and they were let down.  And I am, that’s why on Thursday when I did know about the allegations, which I’d not heard of before, I immediately launched two investigations which will look at everything without any sort of fear or favour.

There was also some argument over today’s report in the Telegraph about when former MP Sandra Gidley told him about concerns about Lord Rennard’s behaviour, whether it was in 2007 after he became leader, or in 2008 as he’d said. Let’s bear in mind that Nick was elected on 17th December. The gap is not as great as is being made out.

A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson phoned in. Today we had Cathy Newman, the journalist who broke the story on Channel 4, on the line. This was followed up later by a tweet from John Prescott about the number of special advisers. I thought this show was about people who wouldn’t normally have access to the Deputy Prime Minister getting the chance to talk to him.

Nick went on to praise Cathy’s work last week, but you would think she would have thought of a better question to ask than one he’d asked and answered on several occasions already during the broadcast, on Rennard’s resignation. It’s also worth emphasising the point that my Liberal Democrat colleague Mark Pack made, that Channel 4, a body which is subject to statutory regulation,  was able to produce such a story unimpeded. If you’ve read the Daily Mail over the past few days, you’d have been led to believe that Nick Clegg’s favoured statutory underpinning of Leveson reforms would silence them. This is plainly rubbish.

Prescott’s question was about Nick employing so many special advisers, saying that even Jesus stopped at 12. Nick made some wry observations about the difference between their respective roles as Deputy Prime Minister.

I don’t think he needed very many special advisers; he probably just had to make lots of cups of tea to try and create peace between the two men.  I have to try and make sure that the two Parties govern together in the national interests across every single area of policy across government.

That, I suspect is code for “I need eyes in the back of my head to stop Tories doing silly things.”

Finally, on the Eastleigh by-election (where he’s headed this afternoon), Nick had this to say about Liberal Democrat prospects:

Well my sense is that actually when people vote they ask themselves who’s going to create jobs, who’s going to deliver fair taxes and who’s going to protect green spaces in the Eastleigh area and who is going to be an outstanding local MP for my area.  And on all of those counts, delivering jobs, increasing the number of apprenticeships, delivering fairer taxes, lower council tax, fairer income tax and protecting green spaces I think everybody accepts in Eastleigh that it’s the Liberal Democrats who’ve got the record of action.

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

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  • “And I am, that’s why on Thursday when I did know about the allegations, which I’d not heard of before, I immediately launched two investigations which will look at everything without any sort of fear or favour.”

    Do I understand correctly that Clegg has said today that – when Jonny Oates was sent details of these specific allegations in 2010 by the Daily Telegraph, and replied that Clegg had not been made aware of them previously – Oates did not in fact speak to him about it?

  • The days of serious investigative journalism really are over and the celebrity culture has triumphed- a recent story being a case in point:
    (1) Good start- someone influential, though not famous, is alleged to have behaved inappropriately to similarly unfamous people.
    (2) Continuing OK- 2 ministers, also not famous, knew of this and perhaps didn’t deal with it terribly well
    (3) Starting to drift- Cabinet minister, also not famous, also knew of this. “Did he tell the right people?”
    (4) The inevitable conclusion- We reach a genuinely famous (infamous?) politician. “What did he know? When did he know it? Can we ask him numerous questions (until the next celeb story breaks) to elicit potentially inconsistent responses about these events several years ago, thus prolonging the story? Perhaps one of us can even ring him up while he’s on the wireless- JACKPOT!”
    Meanwhile (1) is no more illuminated to most of us than it was 7 days ago.

  • It was brave of him to go on air. If ever the word ‘indefatigable’ could rightly be applied, it is to Nick Clegg.

  • David Allen 27th Feb '13 - 5:18pm

    Perhaps we should sum up:

    BBC – One out of ten
    Catholic Church – Minus five out of ten
    Lib Dems – About four or five out of ten

    The voters will sort of on the whole not be too censorious, I suspect. But we should be a lot stricter with ourselves.

  • @Chris
    Yes, one feels there was a virtual conspiracy to protect Clegg from bad news in the build up to the general election; the result of a ‘blue skies’ strategy pursued by communications director Jonny Oates which meant the campaign almost fell flat on its face when he failed to spot the coordinated press attack hurtling towards the LibDem leader a week after the first TV debate .
    Sounds familiar?

  • Seriously disagree on special advisors. They dilute the best of policymaking. There is no correlation between the number of advisors and a minister’s capability and effectiveness.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Feb '13 - 11:37pm

    David Allen

    Catholic Church – Minus five out of ten

    Why? Do you know what the Catholic Church is doing about this issue? Or are you relying on reports in the British media? Perhaps you do not realise the relationship of these reports tends to be about the same as the relationship with reality when the Daily Mail reports on the Liberal Democrats.

    You may find details of the Catholic Church in England and Wales is doing on this issue on the website of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Agency You may say it is not nearly enough, but objectively, would you say it is so inadequate that a mark of minus five out of ten is justified?

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