Opinion: What does ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ mean?

The suspension and threatened expulsion from the party of Chris Rennard for ‘failure to apologise’ takes the Rennard affair into a new and much darker place. Even those of us who think Chris should apologise should stop and think about where this is taking us.

Alistair Webster’s statement seemed to me to be entirely sensible, but there was one issue Alistair should have said more about, namely what can count as ‘bringing the party into disrepute’. That issue is crucial because on it depends the rights of minorities in the party to stay within it. If, for example, disagreeing with the leader in public counted as bringing the party into disrepute, we would be a rather different, and rather smaller party. Alistair merely says that the charge could not be sustained because that there was insufficient evidence that Chris had ‘intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way’, which leaves open a number of possibilities.

My view, however, is that bringing the party into disrepute has to mean acting in a way incompatible with the party’s aims and values. That would include, for example, abuse of power. An organisation devoted to breaking up concentrations of power and defending the weak cannot possibly accept misuse of power within its own ranks. The use of political power for seriously improper, including sexual, purposes should fall very firmly within the definition of bringing the party into disrepute.

But what has happened now is entirely different. Chris has been suspended from membership on the basis not of any accusation that he has abused his power or of any similar repudiation of the party’s aims and values, but on the basis of an accusation that he refused to apologise ‘as recommended by Alistair Webster QC’. That is very odd. Alistair was acting as an investigator not as an adjudicator. His recommendations are just that. They are not orders or requirements. This is not an internal version of contempt of court.

So what does the charge really consist of? The party’s statement starts, significantly:

Nick Clegg made clear last week, and again this morning, that it would be inappropriate for Lord Rennard to resume the Liberal Democrat whip unless he apologises. Lord Rennard has refused to do so.

In other words, Chris is charged with defying the leader. Since when has that counted as bringing the party into disrepute? Those of us who spent a lifetime in politics not doing what party leaders wanted us to do should be asking ourselves what this means. Are we in a political party any more, or are we in a fan club? No doubt Paddy Ashdown would have loved to have been able to throw out of the party those who defied him over his attempts to submerge the party into New Labour – so that would have been Conrad Russell and me (and at least one current Secretary of State) gone in 1998. But he couldn’t. Have we now changed that?

I would still urge Chris to try to find a form of apology or expression of regret that would be acceptable to the party at large and I don’t think he’s right to fear civil action at the hands of the complainants (his legal advisers should perhaps be reading the Limitation Act). But that is not the point any more. To threaten to throw Chris out of the party for refusing to do what the Leader demands is itself a betrayal of what the party stands for.  Who is abusing power now?

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116 Comments

  • Agree with this analysis.

    There is also the related point that if disagreeing with the leader is enough to be charged with bringing the party into disrepute, surely so is not dealing properly with complaints against an individual over a number of years.

  • As another who thinks that a dignified apology from Chris Rennard for any hurt he may have (inadvertently?) caused by his behaviour towards the women who have complained would have solved this – not to the satisfaction of all but of most – I do not agree that it would have been acceptable for the party to ignore his refusal to do so, especially after his party leader had in moderate and reasonable terms asked him to .

    To leave the situation whereby his Lords colleagues simply welcomed him back and carried on as usual would bear out the all-too-credible accusation that the power of men in his position should frighten any woman from complaining about any inappropriate behaviour in which such men may be tempted to indulge. Webster made it clear after a careful study that there was credible evidence of “invasion of space” etc . I have not seen anyone denying that – merely clumsy attempts by some to minimise the importance of what they see as “minor touching-up”. In this day and age that is simply not acceptable and the party must be seen to recognise that. The offer to Rennard to end the matter by taking the opportunity to make the simple apology that Webster offered him should have been taken. The refusal to do so could not be ignored by the party leadership.

  • The Lib Dems are starting to look like a Party that supports the rule of law or internal process only if it produces the results they seek….

  • What a terrible mess, the party has the air of suicide, bad enough the public do not vote for us but to simply invent our own system of suicide bombing is banal. We are fast becoming a total laughing stock. Incompetence is not the word.

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st Jan '14 - 9:55am

    As an onlooker at much remove who knows nothing about the rights, wrongs, processes orparticipants, my only reaction is ‘oh no, here the LDs go again’; it’s all too much like the removal of Charles Kennedy – the party departs from focus on policy to an internal affair which involve key personalities in the leadership attempting to remove one another for reasons which may be legitimate but are personal and not clearly explained to outsiders. The resulting impression is one of grubby laundry airedi n public, whatever the rights of the matter.

  • Peter Chegwyn 21st Jan '14 - 9:58am

    An excellent article.

    Especially the last two sentences.

  • Stephen Yolland 21st Jan '14 - 10:04am

    There is no form of apology that Chris Rennard can offer, even for inadvertently upsetting someone, without laying himself open to civil action. So for Clegg and Farron to ask for that is infantile, for Chris to be suspended over it is laughable – or it would be if it were not an appalling way to treat a great servant of the party. Why are they not calling for the complainants to agree not to persue civil proceedings if Chris apologises for doing something that inadvertently caused offence? Why is no one asking that?

    The party leadership thus reveal themselves, once again, to be incompetent. Chris Rennard’s statement shows that he offered mediation which was rejected, What more can he be expected to do?

    It is time this witch hunt was ended, forthwith. And I trust Channel 4 (and the party) will be giving equal airtime to both Chris Rennard’s statement and Amy Kircher’s comments see https://www.facebook.com/amykitcher/posts/10152334556557018?comment_id=32860871&notif_t=like) as anything else.

  • Simon Hebditch 21st Jan '14 - 10:22am

    What an utter shambles the party is now in on this issue! A complete failure to originally investigate complaints effectively now compounded by the chaos surrounding a new enquiry and the obvious fact that the party’s procedures are not fit for purpose. A very good article by Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian.

  • “To leave the situation whereby his Lords colleagues simply welcomed him back and carried on as usual would bear out the all-too-credible accusation that the power of men in his position should frighten any woman from complaining about any inappropriate behaviour in which such men may be tempted to indulge.”

    Sadly, the fact that his Lords colleagues were ready to welcome him back without even an apology already bears that out.

    But the manoeuvre being executed now doesn’t look anything like due process. It’s almost as though people throughout the party are determined to handle this in the worst possible way.

  • Webster made it clear after a careful study that there was credible evidence of “invasion of space” etc . I have not seen anyone denying that

    I thought Rennard denies that he had ever invaded anyone’s space?

    Some people’s defence, in this situation, is ‘Okay I touched her but it wasn’t meant in any sexual way.’

    Those people could then apologise if their touch was taken the wrong way, without admitting that they were guilty of harassment.

    Rennard, on the other hand, denies that the events ever happened as described.

    So how can he apologise for something he says never happened? To apologise would be admitting that something happened, which he denies.

  • Philip Rolle 21st Jan '14 - 10:36am

    “Bringing into dispute” seems to be something of catch all offence that targets those which an organisation wishes to take action against, but cannot nail under a more specific felony. It is unfortunately the type of manoeuvre instigated by the golf club committee when it has decided in advance to blackball a member.

  • Chris Keating 21st Jan '14 - 10:44am

    Indeed, we don’t have a definition of “bringing the Party into disrepute”.

    However I would certainly argue that where there is a credible body of evidence that a senior Party member behaved inappropriately – even if unintentionally – and that senior Party member refuses to reflect on or apologise for their conduct, then they are indeed bringing the Party into disrepute.

    The membership rules are too much designed to protect people in positions of power and not enough to protect the reputation of the Party.

  • If I am faced with a number of unconnected people saying one thing & One person saying the opposite, who do I beleive ? Rennards attempts to paint himself as the victim make me feel sick.
    As a Party we should feel embarassed for taking so long to act against Rennard, not for finally doing the right thing.

  • Lib Dems very clearly sending out a message: don’t complain about being sexually harassed, we’ll screw up any response.

    Most workplaces manage to uphold harassment policies without either party dragging the whole thing through the court system. Why is a political party that is part of government incapable of following even the minimum standards set out in most working environments?

  • “So how can he apologise for something he says never happened? To apologise would be admitting that something happened, which he denies.”

    Well, that denial might actually be the weak spot in Rennard’s case, because while Webster said that Rennard’s intentions could probably not be proved beyond reasonable doubt, the same may not apply to the alleged incidents themselves. Webster’s statements express no doubt that they took place. And if that is capable of proof beyond reasonable doubt, and if Rennard continues to say the women are lying, then that really could be grounds for disciplinary action.

  • Sorry but Webster did not make any findings of fact and to at is the root of the problem. There has not been a formal hearing to establish the facts. To establish the evidence is credible is the first step, that evidence then needs to be tested robustly in a hearing. That is just simple natural justice.

    As an employer if I acted int he way the party has as just about every stage of this affair I would be found significantly wanting in any tribunal or court hearing.

  • According to the Telegraph Rennard is now threatening to reveal details about the private lives of some of his alleged victims, in order to undermine their evidence. Would anyone like to argue that these threats dont bring The Party into “Disrepute” ?

  • According to the Guardian:

    “Lord Macdonald, the Lib Dem peer and former director of public prosecutions, may be appointed to be the investigator appointing to look into the new complaints about Lord Rennard’s refusal to apologise allegedly bringing the party into disrepute.”

    How can someone who has already expressed an opinion on the matter be asked to independently investigate? He should recuse himself and they should find someone with no public statement.

  • Kevin Beaumont 21st Jan '14 - 11:32am

    Sexual harassment – okay as long as you’re senior enough.

  • Lib Dems very clearly sending out a message: don’t complain about being sexually harassed, we’ll screw up any response

    Actually I think the message being sent out (or at least, the one being received) is more along the lines of, ‘We’re not a serious party, we’re a bunch of amateurs and dilettantes who just love making up constitutions and rules and serving on committees and following arcane procedures to the letter, playing at politics’.

    In any proper party Rennard would simply have been quietly kicked out the door long ago, long before it ever came to this point.

  • “Sorry but Webster did not make any findings of fact and to at is the root of the problem.”

    Certainly he says that in one place. But then again he makes statements like “It is my view that Lord Rennard ought to reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused …”

    I’d say the root of the problem is that Webster made it so clear that he believed the substance of the complaints.

  • This saga will continue to be given wide publicity as long as there are Lib Dems prepared to talk about it in public. What is needed is some self imposed discipline here. I refuse to discuss this matter with the press or in public and suggest that any comments others have to make be made internally to the leader, the president or the chief executive or any enquiry that may be set up.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Jan '14 - 12:30pm

    Simon Hebditch

    A very good article by Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian.

    I thought it was an appalling article. It was used to make Chris Rennard stand in and be attacked for any man who has ever used his position to gain unwanted sexual contact. If the accusations made against Chris Rennard as they are reported in the same edition of the newspaper are correct, I see nothing which suggests he implied to the victims that he would advance their careers if they went along with his desires, and nothing to suggest he acted in a way to damage their careers when they did not. Yet Polly Toynbee writes about such things as if to imply that’s what this was all about.

    The article makes reference to Chris Rennard’s physical appearance in a way that would be considered deeply offensive if it were used the other way round i.e. the line was used “how could this physically unprepossessing woman imagine a man would be interested in her, so her allegations about abuse cannot be true”. Are we to take it that Chris Rennard would be judged in a less condemnatory way if he was more physically attractive? That’s what Toynbee seemed to be saying.

    A week ago I was angry with Chris Rennard, thinking the story was about a man who for all his other skills was socially inept and so didn’t read the obvious “No” signals from women he tried touching up. I wished he would just admit that and let us move on. However, now I can see with attacks like Toynbee’s it makes this much harder: Rennard is being forced into a position where either he denies everything, or he says he is an evil depraved monster who should therefore suffer life exile from any political or social activity. Sorry, but I think there is a midpoint, and if that is denied him, I can see his position being to insist on the only other option he is allowed. This sort of thing is never going to be well handled if we don’t allow for the midpoint.

    The possibility that it really is all manufactured to damage him is there. That’s why Huhne deserves severe condemnation – every time we get a case where someone denies and denies an allegation and then admits to it, it makes it harder for someone who genuinely has been stitched up to be believed. I do find it hard to believe the allegations against Rennard as reported are completely made up, but I do think it would help if Chris Rennard was treated in a way that showed some sympathy for him as a person, enabling us to better get to what really happened. Articles like Toynbee’s which start off with the assumption that he’s a scheming monster just mean we can’t get a decent discussion on the realities of what happened, on what was in each person’s head.

    I’m concerned about the way this has been reported as if the Leader of the Party should have the right to expel any member he likes, and as if the party has such a rigid environment that if one person in it acts in a certain way then that means the whole party must be like that. This shows a view of political party which is profoundly illiberal, yet coverage of politics these days seems to assume that model of party.

    The human reality is that if someone is behaving in a way that is a bit embarrassing that can be quite hard to deal with. It can be someone who acts in a way inappropriate as in these allegations, it can be someone who drinks too much, it can be someone who has poor hygiene, and much else. In all cases, people are afraid to do something about it, and it generally gets left too late. How much worse it is when it is all written up as cloaks-and-daggers stuff, as is general in political coverage, and the person who acted embarrassingly is held up to public ridicule? If such things happen in the Liberal Democrats I don’t think that makes our party much different from any other organisation of human beings. Again, it would be nice if we could talk sensibly about this, but the coverage of the Rennard case only serves to stop that.

  • Melanie Harvey 21st Jan '14 - 12:53pm

    On this basis, may be Nick should have said * I recommend and advise that it may be best for LR to apologise* the problem with drawing lines in sand is that they tend to disappear with one kick and create a whole different line entirely.

  • “To threaten to throw Chris out of the party for refusing to do what the Leader demands is itself a betrayal of what the party stands for. ”

    So, the party stands for an organisation in which the leadership has no power to enforce discipline? In which, to surmise a parallel example, a Treasurer who embezzled party funds could not be sanctioned without reference to an internal committee, who would vote on the basis of personal loyalties and second-hand reporting of the evidence?

    If that’s what the party stands for, it’s time it got betrayed.

    NB, this isn’t about disagreeing with the Leader on a point of principle. Talking about such disagreements is a red herring. It’s about standards of behaviour and discipline.

    And yes, proper procedures as described by Steve Way and others are needed to create a fit-for-purpose disciplinary process. Ultimately the Leader must enforce it.

  • Liberal Neil 21st Jan '14 - 1:55pm

    Stephen Yolland – “There is no form of apology that Chris Rennard can offer, even for inadvertently upsetting someone, without laying himself open to civil action.” I too don’t understand this. I’m not aware that it is possible to sue someone because they have inadvertently upset you. Amy’s statement is a very balanced comment but it does also bring to light another incident of a similar nature to the others.

    Steve Way – A ‘finding of fact’ has a particular legal meaning. When Anthony Webster says he was not asked to make a finding of fact he probably means it in that context. I don’t think he meant that he hadn’t come to some conclusions about some of the facts, and his comments about the complainants’ evidence suggests that he had. I happen to agree with you that a fact-finding inquiry rather than an adversarial process would almost certainly have been a much better for all concerned.

  • @David Allen
    Yes it is about standards, but the power to enforce discipline must be within the rules. If the rules are wrong change them, but you cannot do so retrospectively. All on this site should surely accept that the rule of law allows for an independent investigation, a fair hearing if the evidence meets the required standard, the right to mount a robust defense, and punishment only where fault is found beyond the applicable measure. Frustratingly for those that brought the complaint it did not meet the requisite standard for a full hearing.

    I think it is important to note that Webster was an investigator not an adjudicator, we do not allow the Police or the CPS to decide punishment, as a society we require due process to be followed. Even if Webster were the adjudicator, at no point did he state that there should be no action if, and only if, Rennard apologizes. It was a suggestion, and one that has not been followed.

    The need to follow a due process should be true whether addressing workplace issues or high treason and everything in between. I have no idea is Chris Rennard is guilty, innocent or somewhere in between. I would therefore support the outcome of any fair process.

    The principles of fair and open justice should apply to everyone from serial killer to those responsible for a traffic violation. The Liberal Democrats used to be the only party that always fought for those principles.

  • Liberal Neil 21st Jan '14 - 1:57pm

    On David’s original article i think he makes a fair point. I think going down the disciplinary route for a second time is not going to solve anything. We need to see some form of mediation, conciliation or negotiation that allows both sides to step back a bit.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 21st Jan '14 - 1:57pm

    Call me a conspiracy theorist but I am convinced that Rennard is at the centre of this trial by Tory media because he so successfully led the campaign against the Tory boundary proposals in the House of Lords. The consequence was that the Tories were denied the opportunity of reducing the House of Commons by 50 MPs and carving up safe Labour and Lib Dem seats so that they could be absorbed into neighbouring Tory safe seats. If the boundary changes and the reduction of the MPs by 50 had gone through Cameron would have found it much easier to obtain a majority in 2015 and complete the Tory strategy of removing every vestige of the state. The Tory dominated media have not forgiven the Liberal Democrats for their betrayal over boundary changes. It is surely no coincidence that the vote against the boundary changes took place in January 2013 and the allegations against Rennard were disseminated by the media in February 2013. Even though, apparently, these allegations went back many years. And the trial by media has worked,
    hasn’t it? People are now saying that if the Lib Dems aren’t competent to run an internal enquiry into their own party how can they be trusted to run the country?

  • Steve Comer 21st Jan '14 - 2:07pm

    Whilst I understand Mick Taylor’s logic, the reality is that if Lib Dems don’t comment others will have a free space to attack us. (Check out Caroline Lucas MP on today’s Woman’s Hour on BBC listen again).

    What saddens me is the failure of the party to use the expertise in its own ranks. We have large numbers of people who’ve worked in charities and the voluntary sector, and they will have come across similar situations. They will be familiar with organisations where you are dealing with volunteers and employees, and some who move between these roles in the same way as elected members and party officers do. We also have a number of people who work (or worked) in HR or have been active in trade unions who will have dealt with cases like this. I was a Union rep for over 20 years, and on a national executive for 10 years, and have dealt with far more relevant cases than most lawyers.
    The key to resolving issues is to establish what the complaints are, what remedy the complainant is seeking, and whether there is a case to answer. You do this early, and then go into an investigation if there is a prima facia case. When you investigate the ‘accused’ has a right under natural justice to see the allegations against them, and the complainants have a right to see their response . The danger of not doing this is that positions become entrenched and everyone ends up feeling embittered and dissatisfied whatever the eventual outcome.

    Instead of seeking the advice which would have been freely available within our own membership, the Party Leadership has made the mistake of going down a quasi-legal route by engaging QC’s. Once you start down a legal route all you end up is litigation piled on litigation, and that’s where we appear to be heading with the Rennard case. The Police decided there was no criminal case to answer, but of course that’s not the point is it? There can be no legal remedy that will satisfy either the complainants or Lord Rennard, and there is a danger this could all drag on for years and cost thousands in legal fees.

    This is not the first time we’ve had crises in the party. In any voluntary organisation personal relationships will break down, and the personal and political can become conflated. Anyone remember the Aberdeenshire dispute over the Trump golf course plans a few years ago, or Wyre Forest in the ’80s for older readers?

    What we need to do after this crisis subsides is ensure we have proper procedures in place to deal with allegations of improper conduct, whether this be sexual harassment, bullying, or anything else. As Steve Way has pointed out, we don’t need to fall into the old Liberal habit of seeking to reinvent the wheel. Much of the work has already been done based on the experience of others. The guides published by ACAS area good starting point. http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2179

    We need to face the reality that the Rennard allegations and subsequent investigations have been handled really badly by the party nationally, and will fester on for some time. Positions are becoming entrenched, and the media are keen to pour petrol on the embers. Beyond this there is a need to ensure we have proper complaints and disciplinary procedures that are accepted as fair by all in the party. We could start by looking at the ACAS guides and belatedly looking to the expertise within our own ranks.

  • “There is no form of apology that Chris Rennard can offer, even for inadvertently upsetting someone, without laying himself open to civil action.”

    I absolutely hate this about politicians. They NEVER apologise and hide behind this pathetic veil of ‘an apology is an admission of guilt’ nonsense and use weasel words like ‘regret’ instead.

    People apologise every day for inadvertent upset and distress. If someone thought I’d sexually harassed them I’d be absolutely mortified, you couldn’t stop me from apologising profusely. It doesn’t mean I’m corroborating their side of the story, its just what decent people do when you accidentally upset someone.

    This is a classic example of what people really hate about politicians. FFS just apologise for any inadvertent offence caused like any normal human being would.

  • David Howarth is a party activist, former councillor, former MP, academic lawyer, highly intelligent bloke and all round good egg. What a shame he is not leaderof the party.

    The short piece that he has written here contains more good sense and is more clearly articulated than so much that we have had to endure in the last few days.

    By way of contrast the article in The Guardian by Polly Toynbee is very odd.
    What does she mean when she writes — “The Lib Dems were always bad on women: around Jeremy Thorpe was a curious closet-gay coterie unwelcoming to women. Oddly, that unfriendly-to-women aura remained in not-gay David Steel’s milieu”.
    Maybe it is a “generational thing” and someone needs to point out to her that neither Jeremy Thorpe nor David Steel was ever leader of the Liberal Democrats, or have the last 25 years passed her by?

  • @matthew huntbach
    “I thought it was an appalling article. It was used to make Chris Rennard stand in and be attacked for any man who has ever used his position to gain unwanted sexual contact. If the accusations made against Chris Rennard as they are reported in the same edition of the newspaper are correct, I see nothing which suggests he implied to the victims that he would advance their careers if they went along with his desires, and nothing to suggest he acted in a way to damage their careers when they did not. Yet Polly Toynbee writes about such things as if to imply that’s what this was all about.”

    I haven’t read Polly Tonybee’s article so am not commenting on it but rather to your point above.

    If somebody in a position of trust and authority makes unwanted advances to one who is in position to be affected by the future decisions and whims then the power dynamic implies a set of consequences whether or not the person intends there to be or not. If a young ambitious woman is propositioned by an older man who is in position to help or hinder their career then whether an explicit reference to career implications is made or not the subtext would be that the woman would more than likely consider these questions and consequences . Who doesn’t try to please, or indeed worry about not pleasing, those who can have a great influence over their ambitions? By extension this therefore becomes an abuse of trust and position.

  • I think all parties involved are being utterly ridiculous and destroying the party for nothing.

    Do they realise the damage they are causing, all because a middle-aged man may or may not have groped someone’s bottom, the truth about which will never be established?

    Come on everyone and get a grip on yourselves. You’ve lost the plot seriously, with the whole media and the country at large watching and laughing.

  • @ Mack (not a Lib Dem)

    “Call me a conspiracy theorist but I am convinced that Rennard is at the centre of this trial by Tory media because he so successfully led the campaign against the Tory boundary proposals in the House of Lords.”

    You are a conspiracy theorist AND you are completely right. Plus this is also being used as a stick to beat Nick Clegg and the whole party with.

    And large chunks of the party seem happy to go along with this. They need to take a deep breath and just STOP. Right now.

  • According to the BBC the chance to avoid Court has passed…. No winners from here on in.

  • Mark Pack’scomments comments on this issue are very interesting, especially the paragraph :

    “, I’m convinced that Chris Rennard’s behaviour has at times been such that an apology and reflection, as recommended by Alistair Webster, would be appropriate.
    I am convinced of that in part because of Webster’s own conclusions. I am also convinced of that because of the number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour, short of any civil or criminal standard but still causing distress, which I have personally heard credible accounts of, from multiple people both within and outside the party, applying to multiple different occasions.”

  • Gareth Wilson, from what I read I think this happened with at least one of the accusers some time back, and it failed to satisfy her view of redress. So it is not that easy at all.

  • Regards Polly Toynbee’s article, her views of the Alliance period and early Lib Dems were always very positive, so she probably would not wish to criticise leaders from that period!

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Jan '14 - 4:41pm

    simon

    If somebody in a position of trust and authority makes unwanted advances to one who is in position to be affected by the future decisions and whims then the power dynamic implies a set of consequences whether or not the person intends there to be or not.

    Sure, I am not saying that Rennard did nothing wrong if he did what he has been alleged to have done. We are arguing about the degree of wrongness. His accusers are not saying he implied their career would be assisted or damaged by the way they reacted to him. To point out that no-one is accusing him of this, and therefore to be critical of someone who by implication accuses him of it, is not the same as doing nothing wrong. In the same way, you may say Toynbee never directly accused Rennard of this. Yes, but then we are in the same area – guilt by implication.

  • RC 21st Jan ’14 – 3:46pm
    … … this is also being used as a stick to beat Nick Clegg …And large chunks of the party seem happy to go along with this.

    RC — please go back to the top of this thread and read what David Howarth has written. Consider in particular the last two paragraphs. If you want to be in a political party where the leader can decide everything from policy to conduct and behaviour, not to mention the weather forecast, then I am sure UKIP will welcome you.

  • simon – Some HR professionals in some organisations go to the point of virtually banning any (sexual) relationships within the organisation because of the sort of trouble they are perceived to cause. I think we as Liberals have to be very careful about removing a key opportunity from people’s lives of forming relationships. How many couples happily paired off are there, who started by meeting as boss and worker?

  • Phyllis 21st Jan ’14 – 4:31pm
    Mark Pack’scomments

    Phyllis, what do you think Mark Pack is trying to say? Is this some sort of ‘nod and wink’ that we are supposed to understand? If Mark Pack knows something the rest of us do not know it might be better if he was more straight forward.

    David Howarth wrote —-
    “But what has happened now is entirely different. Chris has been suspended from membership on the basis not of any accusation that he has abused his power or of any similar repudiation of the party’s aims and values, but on the basis of an accusation that he refused to apologise ‘as recommended by Alistair Webster QC’. That is very odd. Alistair was acting as an investigator not as an adjudicator. His recommendations are just that. They are not orders or requirements. This is not an internal version of contempt of court.”

  • I think Toynbee conflates too many types of behaviour under which she tries to show a Lib Dem (and Tory) discrimination against women. This is political prejudice, and is quite unhelpful in telling between right and wrong, matters for the criminal law versus those for workplace discipline and other useful distinctions. In this respect, Matthew also usefully tries to remind us all to keep a sense of perspective, and stop trying to put all sexual crimes, offences and misdemeanours in the same heinous category. Every type of offence has different levels of seriousness and should be treated as such.

  • Phyllis, despite myself and my “other half” being pretty close to the action at times, we never ever heard such allegations. Surely if Mark Pack had done so, why didn’t he in his position seek to get action taken?

  • Tony Greaves 21st Jan '14 - 5:53pm

    In the days of Thorpe and Steel Polly Toynbee was in the Labour Party. She joined the SDP but I don’t think she ever joined the merged party.

    “Wyre Forest in the ’80s for older readers? ” Dreadful personal rows etc threatening to bring down the administration in a Council we controlled. The mediation was done by quite intensive input from Maggie Clay and myself at ALC – mainly Maggie. It worked well (though they fell apart later as a result of the merger).

    Tony

  • One thing that I think the largely male readership of LDV, not to mention the party’s largely male leadership, may not “get” is the intensity of the anguish and fear that a woman may feel, trapped in an enclosed space with a larger, physically and emotionally dominant male who doesn’t take no for an answer. Men, imagining themselves in this situation, may say “why couldn’t she just have told him off and walked away?” But this option, though perhaps feasible for a man in that situation (if it should arise) is often not feasible for women who face this situation. Instead they face a series of increasingly horrific scenarios: Will I lose my job if I say no? Will I lose my friends and relationships if someone finds out this happened? If I call out and somebody comes, will anybody believe me? If I call out and no one comes, will I be beat up? Will I be raped? Will I be murdered?

    Men tend to dismiss these concerns as emotional whinging, yet they are very real to most women. Men walk through life on the assumption that through muscle, bulk, effrontery, swagger, or lies, they can push or talk themselves out of any awkward situation. Most women (not all, of course) don’t have that sense that they can get out of a tight spot if they are put into it. And, of course, when they see that when women *do* complain about offences, inquiries go nowhere and wrongdoers are free to offend again and again, this creates an even more constricting feeling of helplessness, a knowledge that the deck is stacked against them and a sense that there are no safe places. And the offenders, meanwhile, are emboldened and feel freer to target, harass, and victimise women. Failure to take action isn’t just about the individuals involved in one particular case — it’s about the entire climate in which men and women move, a climate where, currently, offenders can feel very safe that they can get away with anything, and where women are left without a sense of safety and a knowledge that bringing offences to the attention of authorities will result in a long rigmarole in which their names are dragged through the mud and nothing is achieved in the end.

    And that’s wrong.

  • @RC: “Do they realise the damage they are causing, all because a middle-aged man may or may not have groped someone’s bottom . . . get a grip . . . You’ve lost the plot . . .”

    The fact that RC does not take this seriously demonstrates exactly what is wrong.

    It also, incidentally, demonstrates why the Liberal Democrats continue to suffer as a party from an underrepresentation of women, and why many women do not feel welcome in the Liberal Democrats. Women will want to go where their concerns are taken seriously and are not mocked.

  • So a huge and completely foreseeable possibility that this will be in the courts, with Rennard taking out an injunction.
    Once hemmed into the corner by the ridiculous decision to suspend his membership on entirely spurious grounds (most policial parties as pointed out above wouldnt have any members at all if that was applied to them) wasnt’ it always likely that a man who made his reputation as a fighter wasnt just going to roll over? And didnt Clegg think about that before jumping in to support that approach?

    Highly dubiuous ‘explanations’ from Mr Farron (whose analysis I normally admire) hasnt helped my blood pressure but at least David Howarth’s article had some good analysis.

    Even at the this late stage all is not lost – I think what Clegg needs to do is to announce a complete root and branch reform of the way in which the party carries out such enquires, lower the threshold of proof in future to that normally expected by employer/employee relationships and tell everyone to back off the courts – and also admit that he personally has made mistakes in the handling of this. Might make him look weak for a while but not as weak as he is going to be if this drags through the courts for the next six months.

  • David Allen 21st Jan '14 - 6:32pm

    Steve Way,

    “The rule of law allows for an independent investigation, a fair hearing if the evidence meets the required standard, the right to mount a robust defense, and punishment only where fault is found beyond the applicable measure” “The Liberal Democrats used to be the only party that always fought for those principles.”

    That would apply to a criminal offence, such as what Dave Lee Travis is accused of. What Rennard is accused of is serious but it is not the same. Nor for that matter is the expression of unacceptable political views, or behaviour liable to cause ridicule. If an MP goes on an escapade like that of Nadine Dorries, the leadership must basically make a decision as to whether and to what extent the behaviour is beyond the pale, since there is no sense in a lengthy “investigation”, still less in the kind of trial by vote which the Lib Dem peers were about to apply.

    Now I grant you that what Rennard is accused of might be described, amongst other things, as bullying. It is certainly arguable that there should have been procedures in place to address that. However, we are where we are.

    We can cling to the principle of due process, even though it is really too late for that, it will prolong the death agonies, and it may well finish in the courts, very very slowly. Or we can do the least worst thing, forget about due process, and treat the issue as similar to the Dorries case. That is, the leadership should make an even-handed ruling, a judgment of Solomon if you will, and then use whatever combination of exhortation, blandishments and threats is necessary to enforce it. Both sides seem to want total victory. Both sides should be told quickly that they aren’t going to get it.

    That’s how the other parties would deal with it. They cope, we don’t. Are we going to commit suicide in defence of due process, in glorification of organisational principles that don’t work?

  • David Allen – it is a pleasure to agree wholeheartedly with your comment

  • @David Allen
    Not just a criminal offence but any disciplinary issues within the workplace. Take a look at the ACAS website it uses the same basic structure. You seem to suggest that the leadership should ignore the rules (according to Rennard they already have) to achieve political expediency. I would say that would make hypocrites of them if they then challenge others to work according to the rules of law.

    They clearly blew this at the early stages and have been gracious enough to admit as much. Once the Webster report summary was published they should have applied pressure, stated they felt Rennard should have apologised but admitted the rules took this out of their hands.

  • Are we going to commit suicide in defence of due process, in glorification of organisational principles that don’t work?

    Ah, the Liberal dream: give me liberty and give me death!

  • Ruth Bright 21st Jan '14 - 7:44pm

    David-1 is quite correct to address the “why didn’t she tell him to get lost and leave it at that” brigade.

    In an office incident (involving an organisation that was nothing to do with the Lib Dems) a man I knew came up behind me and groped me. It was “through clothing” so presumably wouldn’t count as a problem according to one of our MEPs!

    The man had the sense to leave the organisation but I received a warning for using the f-word at him when he re-appeared on a later occasion.

    Women take a big risk if they retaliate physically or even verbally.

  • @David-1
    “Women will want to go where their concerns are taken seriously and are not mocked.”

    I think this article by Cathy Newman (Channel 4 News Presenter) in the Telegraph is very relevant with respect to this concern;
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/10583759/Nick-Clegg-Lord-Rennard-row-Why-is-the-deputy-prime-minister-letting-ME-get-booed.html

    Remember the big issue for the party, which your posting alludes to, isn’t specifically Chris Rennard, although the statements being made and the media frenzy is leading you to believe this is the entirety of the problem, but the fact that it’s senior members “failed to take decisive action after the women reported their concerns”. Hence the more important aspects of all this isn’t so much what Chris Rennard did or didn’t do, but why the party did nothing for years and how is it progressing in implementing the recommendations made in Helena Morrissey’s report, released last June.

    With respect to Helena’s report and some of the organisational governance issues she encountered, this article which Stephen Tall references on his blog makes interesting reading: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25805033

    I personally think that many would prefer the implementation of a policy that enabled claims, such as those made against Chris Rennard’s, to be taken seriously, and efficiently and discretely dealt with, than the current situation where it seems that things only happen many years after the event, once a sufficient head of steam has built up and either a public sacrifice or abasement becomes necessary.

  • @ David 1

    No. Sorry. I’m not going to be tarred with your casual accusation of sexism. I will not accept it in any way.

    The whole point is: what actually can be achieved to improve the situation, representation and role of women within the party in the future by indulging in this bout of blood-letting? In practical terms, nothing. If, as so far has seemed to be the case, the allegations cannot be proved, where is this all going to end up? To what practical, achievable end are they being pursued? None, as far as I can see.

    We should be focusing on making sure this never happens again, not wallowing in the unprovable past.

    If the people involved in the matter on both sides do not back down now, there will be no party, at least as far as Euro MEPs, Westminster MPs and probably as far as many councils are concerned. We will be destroyed.

    Is that what everyone wants? To dissolve the party, because that is the way they are heading if they are not careful.

  • @ David Allen

    “Both sides seem to want total victory. Both sides should be told quickly that they aren’t going to get it.
    That’s how the other parties would deal with it. They cope, we don’t. Are we going to commit suicide in defence of due process, in glorification of organisational principles that don’t work?”

    Your comment encapsulates the issue entirely.

  • This, by Carl Gardner, is an excellent analysis of the situation:
    http://www.headoflegal.com/2014/01/21/lord-rennard-injustice-all-round/

    Thanks – that was very interesting. The penultimate paragraph says:
    “Can this be solved without legal proceedings? My only suggestion is that Lord Rennard or his accusers (or both) should take their cases to the Appeals Panel for England under article 9.4 of the the constitution of the Liberal Democrats in England (page 88 of the pdf) on the basis that either the initial or the fresh disciplinary procedures (or both) were not properly carried out in accordance with the rules, so that a member’s rights under the constitution were breached. That’d have the advantage that the Appeals Panel’s powers appear unlimited – so it could even quash the original investigator’s report and order a reinvestigation from the beginning.”

    That would actually seem preferable to the current process based on the notion that Rennard’s failure to apologise has brought the party into disrepute. And statements have already been made on Rennard’s behalf that Webster exceeded his brief, so he could hardly complain if Webster’s report were quashed…

  • Roland – Not impressed by James Landale’s article. It seems glib. He implies he has made a study of disciplinary process in the Tories and Labour. I think it highly unlikely that his contention that they will have a uniform disciplinary standard throughout everyone associated with those parties. For those who are actual employees or volunteers working to a specific schedule that would be likely, but for elected representatives, most of whom are not employed by the party, but have a quasi-contractual relationship with their Councils, or in the case of the HoC are pseudo-self-employed, or Lords, allowances only it is much more difficult to have discipline centred on the party. James Landale would do much better to make a study of his subject before this type of comment, and then address the really weird conditions under which parliamentarians are employed / self-employed.

    Many people join the Lib Dems to have some kind of impact on policy and political action. The internal democracy allows that to happen. Just because we have internal democracy doesn’t mean we are unfit for Government. A significant part of the party’s ethos rests on this. Perhaps James has been listening to Nick Clegg’s message about the party’s “need to drop oppositionalism and embrace being a Party of Government”.

    Perhaps James has a point about some young people in the party not understanding the place Chris Rennard has for longer standing members, but that certainly doesn’t apply to his accusers in this case, all of whom will be well aware. Chris is quite simply the LD equivalent of Peter Mandelson for NuLabour in broad brush terms.

    None of this means Chris Rennard should get away with anything that any other member would.

  • @ David-1

    One thing that I think the largely male readership of LDV, not to mention the party’s largely male leadership, may not “get” is the intensity of the anguish and fear that a woman may feel, trapped in an enclosed space with a larger, physically and emotionally dominant male who doesn’t take no for an answer.

    This demonstrates exactly why Chris Rennard can’t apologise. Those people (including, sadly, Nick Clegg) who are saying it’s common manners and no big deal and they would apologise instantly blah blah blah need to read this and ask themselves honestly – would YOU apologise if the apology would effectively be taken as an admission of the type of behaviour described above?

    Webster may have found the allegations of “invasion of space” credible but there is NO suggestion in his comments that he found credible evidence that Rennard ever “didn’t take no for an answer” or “trapped” anyone in a room with him or anything of such a sinister nature. Yet many of his critics, including some of the complainants, are talking in those terms. His apology would be taken as a de facto admission of not just inappropriate but downright sinister behaviour. Of course he can’t apologise under these circumstances.

    If the complainants had backed down just a little, in tandem with Rennard backing down just a little, this could have been resolved. If the women involved had said “his behaviour made me feel uncomfortable but I accept that he never intended to threaten me nor was my safety ever in doubt in any way” then Rennard could have said “I never intended to cause distress or discomfort but if I have then I sincerely regret that”.

    I am a woman. And I’m not exactly karate kid. If someone actually behaved in a threatening manner or trapped me somewhere I doubt I would feel able to “handle” it. But if a man propositions me, even if that includes a touch on the knee, and I say no, I don’t assume that he’s going to rape me. That’s absurd. And to place Chris Rennard anywhere near the same category as men who try to force themselves on women (or on other men) is highly offensive, not just to him but hopefully to all fair-minded people.

    He probably made unwanted advances. He MAY have also touched people inappropriately, which would be wrong if true (though he denies it and there is apparently non-negligible doubt about the evidence, which moreover has not been properly tested). But it’s manifestly clear that he took no for an answer, that he didn’t try and force the issue, and furthermore that the women who rejected his advances have suffered no impediment to their careers as a result. To talk about “safety” in relation to this case is to compare Rennard with some kind of sexual predator and to imply that he could be capable of assault or worse. That needs to stop right now.

  • Paul In Twickenham 21st Jan '14 - 9:41pm

    Since it is clear that the junior partner in the coalition is currently preoccupied, here is the news:

    * UN Report concludes that 11,000 detainees murdered by agents of the state in Syria.
    * Russia claims agents of Western governments destabilizing Ukraine.
    * A quarter of all 20-30 year olds are living with their parents because they cannot afford housing.
    * European Commission report acknowledges that the inability of Eurozone member states to vary exchange rates has resulted in “increased unemployment and social hardship”.
    * Growing risk of major crash in shadow banking sector in China at end of January.
    * West Ham crushed by Manchester City.
    * Lib Dems too busy to think about any of the above, or anything else for that matter.

  • Excellent idea Chris and I hope some stuck in the muds are reading this thread – Im very much afraid though that after watching Tim Farron tonight categorically rule out any sort of differing approach apart from ‘follow Clegg or else’, that this will fall on deaf ears.

  • Its time some of these folk got real in this the 21st century.
    No man or woman is bigger than the Party and nobody including the elevate peers should forget that fact.
    Chris Rennard states that he offered to apologise a few years ago but now that he is being supported by others like him we discover he is now refusing a perfectly reasonable request from Nick Clegg and co. After all Nick Clegg wasn’t even an MP when all this nonsense began (so give him a break.)
    I’m also annoyed with the likes of Alex Carlyle adopting his “holier than thou” tone yet again instead of taking Rennard aside and telling him to screw the nut and stop bringing the Party into further disrepute when we should be focussing our energies on the forthcoming European campaign.
    The bulk of the just public wonder “Chris WHO” and that’s how it should remain.

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Jan '14 - 8:09am

    Carl Gardner says it all. People are trying to treat the Webster evidence investigation report as if it were something which it is not (findings of fact/adjudication) – and on the basis of soundbite summaries of bits of it selected by some of those involved.

    http://www.headoflegal.com/2014/01/21/lord-rennard-injustice-all-round/

    Political parties are notorious at utilising (misusing) processes for reasons of expediency, even when those processes are appropriate and good. These processes are neither, so what hope did we ever have?

    Sometimes people just don’t do what the majority want them to do and you have no say over it. Things then get messy because the only sanction left to those who are concerned about the matter is the withdrawal of personal association which can then lead to prolonged friction between those who do and those who don’t ‘withdraw’ and polarisation/schism which can paralyse/ cripple any organisation. In organisations where all those involved are employees/partners, the issues normally have to be determined (and quickly) one way or another because the organisation cannot function at all without an integrity of purpose. In a largely-voluntary organisation/association, things can limp on for years.

    As an aside, failure to apologise in a matter where no adjudicator, panel or jury has determined that you should do is apparently considered by some to be more likely to bring the Party into disrepute than is a failure to oppose tuition fees when several million people thought you should and would do this (as you pledged).

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Jan '14 - 8:21am

    @Simon Hebditch:

    “A very good article by Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian.”

    I was going to say “This doesn’t happen. ” But everyone has their ‘stopped clock moments’. A lot of Toynbee’s analysis here is appropriate and well-written . She lets herself down, however, with her sweeping, vipid (possibly heavily edited-down) conclusions. The problem is that an awful lot of people will be coming to the same conclusions – and what the Party is doing at the moment is not helping them to see otherwise.

  • Ian Hurdley 22nd Jan '14 - 9:26am

    In common with everyone else on this thread I have not had the opportunity to read Alastair Webster’s report, and so I have to rely on what has been reported, which is that whilst credible the evidence does not prove any offence beyond reasonable doubt. But that is the criminal standard, applied in and by the criminal courts. Elsewhere, a lower standard is used, allegations considered to be true on the balance of probability. This is the appropriate standard to be applied by the Party leadership. If the report they have received shows the allegations to be true on the balance of probability ( I don’t know whether it does or not; I am simply saying, if it does) then not only are they entitled to take action, they are obliged to do so. And this is not something peculiar to the Party and its rules and regulations. A police officer acquitted of a criminal charge may still face an internal disciplinary consequence. The GMC has the power to sanction medical practitioners, the General Nursing Council to discipline nurses, and so on. Lord Rennard’s point blank refusal to accept the report’s recommendation that he apologise really leaves the Party no option but to investigate the matter further. In the meantime, suspension is entirely reasonable.

  • “Carl Gardner says it all. People are trying to treat the Webster evidence investigation report as if it were something which it is not (findings of fact/adjudication) – and on the basis of soundbite summaries of bits of it selected by some of those involved.”

    It’s quite funny that you say that, at the same time as selecting the bits of Carl Gardner’s analysis that fit in with the pro-Rennard case. In fact, Gardner also says other things which are far from favourable to that case. For example:

    “Alistair Webster also threw the complaint out because
    it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way
    but it’s not clear to me why he thought such an intention would have had to be proved. No such intention is even required for a conviction for sexual assault under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It seems to me the investigator’s decision is open to serious criticism on this ground alone.

    Of course I bear in mind the important caveat that I haven’t seen the evidence myself. Still, Alistair Webster’s conclusion seems difficult to understand based on what he says about that evidence. I can’t help feeling that considering the evidence “broadly credible” would have been more consistent with allowing the complaint to proceed to the disciplinary panel than with concluding it was insufficient to go forward. And it seems to me he’s imported an excessively high requirement of intention into his analysis.”

    I’d advise anyone who’s particularly interested in the legal aspects of the case to go direct to Carl Gardner’s article, rather than relying on other people’s presentation of it:
    http://www.headoflegal.com/2014/01/21/lord-rennard-injustice-all-round/

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '14 - 10:34am

    Tony Dawson

    The problem is that an awful lot of people will be coming to the same conclusions – and what the Party is doing at the moment is not helping them to see otherwise.

    I can’t see what else the party can do. On the one hand you have these allegations made against Chris Rennard, and on the other you have his denial that anything like this happened. You can’t go back in time and prove it either way, it is not something that left physical evidence. Faced with this, what would ANY organisation do?

    The traditional liberal approach is “innocent until proven guilty”. Well, we can see any attempt to use that approach gets us labelled as a party which is anti-women. So do we like the idea of “guilty until proven innocent”, where it is not possible to prove innocence? If we try and talk about this case we are accused of being obsessed with it, and so being bad people. If we don’t talk about it, we are accused of “sweeping it under the carpet” and so being bad people. It is not helped by the line taken by Toynbee and many others that anyone who does not react to this case by instantly dismissing Chris Rennard as a monster who should be expelled from all activity in the party for life is themselves a monster who does not understand how sexual abuse can be so damaging to women.

    There are aspects of maleness that no-one dare talk about, because all us men must pretend we are alpha-males, who in the words of david-1 “walk through life on the assumption that through muscle, bulk, effrontery, swagger, or lies, they can push or talk themselves out of any awkward situation”. I’ll leave that point at that.

    The other thing here is this readiness to assume that if anyone in our party does anything, then that is what we are all like, it is somehow a mark of our party. One thing I used to hate when I was an active campaigner for the party was the way if I ever expressed my opinion on anything in any semi-public forum, it was automatically taken as “the Liberal Democrat view”, even when it wasn’t, which often it wasn’t. Our political enemies – which encompasses MOST people who have any sort of media and political influence – are always ready to use this line, so anything unfortunate that any of us in the party does is used to attack the whole party. They can get away with this because what our party is about and what it does is not so well understood as for the two bigger parties. If an individual Labour or Conservative Party member does or says something unfortunate, even someone in a prominent position, it just does not get written up in this way that assumes “that’s the party line, that’s how the whole party is”. It is much more likely to be taken as something that one person has done or said, and accepted that the party is made up of many people with many different views and habits, and some of them are less than perfect human beings and so do and say silly things.

  • Have not time to read all above so this may have been said:
    Webster should have realised this man is not the type to apologise. He will not ” take the hit for the party”
    Rennard; acting in this way, has made more people think he may well have done what the women say.
    It was the wrong way to sort it.
    Has his apparent “attitude” caused a lack of women in the Party?

  • Just read Rennards statement. One of a few questionable things he say’s- regarding Webster’s statement-
    “He told me that the words accompanying the ‘No Further Action’ statement were not his responsibility” .
    And the reason for losing his memberrship –
    ” Lord Rennard will now be investigated for bringing the party into disrepute on the grounds of his failure to apologise as recommended by Alistair Webster QC.”
    Which is correct??

  • @Ian Hurdley
    Webster could not have concluded the allegations to be true to any standard, that was not his job and a finding of that type could only be made once the evidence had been properly tested. He has stated it is broadly credible, even if he had felt it could have led to a finding against Rennard that would not have meant that he would be found against.

    His role was to recommend whether the evidence was sufficient for a hearing was to be held, not to prejudge its outcome. What some people here are suggesting would be tantamount to finding people guilty once the CPS recommend proceeding with a case…

    It can never be repeated too many times that the evidence has not been robustly challenged by the person accused, there has been no hearing merely a review of the written evidence. Had it been so and Rennard found wanting I would support any appropriate sanction as harassment is never acceptable.

  • Ian Hurdley 22nd Jan '14 - 1:20pm

    @Steve Way.
    Webster did not declare guilt. He said the complaints were broadly credible, which in my view indicates that there is case to answer. Lord Rennard’s rejects that view. Very well, let us have a formal investigation and hearing at which Lord Rennard may respond formally to his accusers. In the meantime, suspension from Party membership is entirely reasonable.

  • @Ian Hurdley
    I would far rather have had a formal hearing that allowed the evidence to be robustly tested. That would be an appropriate course of action had Webster recommended it (it was his brief to decide this due to the evidence, even untested, not meeting the requisite standard).

    What is currently happening relates to the refusal to apologise for something that has not been proven. Therefore he will not get to challenge the original evidence, which he still has not been presented with.

    Also, he was not suspended when being investigated for sexual harassment which would have been far more understandable.

  • Ian Hurdley 22nd Jan '14 - 2:05pm

    @Steve Way
    At any rate, I guess (and hope) that we would agree that the sooner this business is sorted, and we can get back to being on the same side in the political arena, the better. :0)

  • David Allen 22nd Jan '14 - 2:08pm

    Catherine at 8.43pm:

    “If the complainants had backed down just a little, in tandem with Rennard backing down just a little, this could have been resolved.”

    Yes, excellent post, especially the last three paragraphs, which explain very clearly where the complainants should back down a little. However it isn’t happening. We have seen things escalate to a stand-off with Rennard apparently ready to go to law against his party rather than accept the slightest degree of blame, and complainants seemingly determined to end Rennard’s political life. In those circumstances the leadership must bang heads together and enforce a compromise.

    In fairness to the complainants, if you have a justifiable grievance and it gets ignored, it nags and nags and grows in your mind. You may then find yourself demanding the earth, when something much less would have resolved things if done at the right time. That doesn’t mean you should be granted the earth.

    The leadership’s task is to square the circle and enforce a mediated or if necessary dictated compromise.

    One thing that would also help square the circle would be to focus more on the future and less on the past. Thus for example, I have always thought that positive discrimination was a terrible idea, but, if this is what happens in its absence, then maybe we need it.

  • Webster did not declare guilt. He said the complaints were broadly credible, which in my view indicates that there is case to answer

    But your view is unimportant. The only view which matters is that of the investigator, ie Webster, and he concluded there was no case to answer.

    Quite how he can have both thought the allegations were credible and that there was no case to answer is a mystery to me, as the two ideas seem mutually contradictory: either the allegations were credible and so there should have been a hearing, or they weren’t and so no hearing was necessary. But that is apparently what he thought.

    Perhaps it’s a quantum thing: Rennard’s hand was both a wave that touched the complainants’ legs and a particle which did not. Perhaps Webster has discovered a new physics of contact. you would have to ask him.

    But that seems to be the source of all the trouble, doesn’t it? This amazing, apparently-contradictory finding that the allegations were credible and yet there is no case to answer.

  • Faced with this, what would ANY organisation do?

    Any serious political party would have recognised at an early stage what a nightmare this could turn out to be, and the leader would have quietly booted Rennard out the door (and its constitution would be organised such that it could do that without having to establish his guilt).

  • “Quite how he can have both thought the allegations were credible and that there was no case to answer is a mystery to me, as the two ideas seem mutually contradictory:”

    Evidently it was because he thought it was unlikely that Rennard’s intention “to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way” could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, even if the women’s evidence of what actually happened was credible.

    However, Carl Gardner’s analysis, referred to above, questions why proof of intention would be necessary, and suggests that Webster’s decision “is open to serious criticism on this ground alone.”
    http://www.headoflegal.com/2014/01/21/lord-rennard-injustice-all-round/

  • To understand the daftness, we need to consider a parallel scenario.

    Supposing the Party was idiotic enough in the future to mount an inquiry into Nick Clegg’s alleged Tory tendencies: The inquiry might report that there although there is no case to answer that it is able to sympathise with those who feel that Nick had betrayed his party.

    Supposing that the report went further and asked Nick to reflect on his actions in government and invited him to consider apologising to those who felt betrayed, how would we expect Nick to respond? Actually, Nick, being Nick, I would not be surprised at some conditional half apology, but I do think it would be a bad idea and very destructive.

    A follow up inquiry into whether the party had been brought into disrepute would only make things worse.

  • Roy, I think you are saying that “any serious political party” would not be a Liberal party. You are suggesting that “any serious political party” must be an autoritarian outfit. I am not sure what you think of the Labour party, but I would remind you that despite (or berhaps thanks to) that party’s authoritarian tendencies, Prescott, for example, has not been defenestrated.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '14 - 4:06pm

    Roy

    Any serious political party would have recognised at an early stage what a nightmare this could turn out to be, and the leader would have quietly booted Rennard out the door (and its constitution would be organised such that it could do that without having to establish his guilt).

    Right, so you think we should have a party where the leader has absolute authority, and can expel anyone he likes without any sort of comeback or right of appeal? All that is needed is to charge them with some offence of other, and then they get kicked out. Isn’t that what happened in North Korea very recently?

  • Roy, I think you are saying that “any serious political party” would not be a Liberal party.

    You’re missing the distinction between what a party is for and how it is run.

    For example, you can have an army fighting for democracy, but that army cannot be run internally as a democracy, because it will lose the war.

    You can have a serious political party that wants to get into power to implement Liberal ideas. But you can’t have a serious political party that is run according to those Liberal ideas because (as this shows) that simply doesn’t work: the party becomes paralysed when trouble happens, because nobody has the authority to just cut through the knot and make things happen.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Jan '14 - 4:15pm

    Now, let’s try and see how this should have been dealt with.

    Yes, this sort of abuse has to be taken seriously. So, if it is reported, it needs to be logged, and the person accused of it told of that fact. This needs to be done confidentially. Then if there is another case, the person is disciplined, because it would seem more than a coincidence for it to be reported twice. For this to work, we need to make sure the reports are independent, that is, no collaboration to damage.

    So it would help to know how these allegation were originally reported. If it was as I suggested, whoever did not act on the second and subsequent report on needs to apologise – deeply.

    I am aware that for many years this sort of thing was not treated seriously in our society. I am a university lecturer, and there was a time when it was almost considered a perk of the job for lecturers to “try it on” with students. Before my time, but I started in the job when there were others who had been there in that era. It would be a sackable offence now, and rightly so.

  • Justin Usherford 22nd Jan '14 - 5:02pm

    If the LDs were a company, not a political party and a senior exec was accused of sexual harassment and those claims found to be credible, even if they could not be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”, I think he would have little option but to resign or be forced out, as the company would perceive that carrying on employing him constituted a “reputational risk” – i.e. bringing the organisation into disrepute.

  • Chris 22nd Jan ’14 – 3:00pm

    Chris has posted several times about the detail of what Webster did or did not say, what he may or may not have meant.

    But we have moved on from that to the decision of The Regional Parties Committee. Does Chris know who they ar, or rather who was present and outing in their meeting on Monday.

    Who compiled

  • This thread is about “bringing the party into disrepute and what that phrase actually means.

    For a party that believes in open justice and transparency it is very difficult to find out what The Regional Parties Committee understood by this phrase.

    Can anyone provide a link or point me in the direction of any published information on this? In particular it would be useful to know who was advising that committee and if the decision was unanimous. Indeed I do not even know if there was a vote. Perhaps I am stupidly looking in the wrong places, can anyone help?

  • “Chris has posted several times about the detail of what Webster did or did not say, what he may or may not have meant.
    But we have moved on from that to the decision of The Regional Parties Committee. Does Chris know who they ar, or rather who was present and outing in their meeting on Monday.”

    I don’t know any more than anyone else with Internet access. My comments about what Webster said are based on the two public statements he has made, which have been posted on LDV.

  • @Chris

    ““Alistair Webster also threw the complaint out because it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way
    but it’s not clear to me why he thought such an intention would have had to be proved. No such intention is even required for a conviction for sexual assault under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It seems to me the investigator’s decision is open to serious criticism on this ground alone.”

    That’s why I didn’t mention that bit, Chris. Gardner gives too much respect to this bit of the Webster report (as reported). It is, to use the technical term, “utter b*****s m’lud.” Motive is totally irrelevant here.

  • John Smithson 23rd Jan '14 - 8:34am

    I disagree with David Howarth about Alistair Webster’s statement in that:
    1) The rules do NOT say that the investigator can only consider evidence in the form of written statements. Rule 7.6 does say that they are responsible for gathering written statements from all but it goes on to say that they shall also be responsible for seeking to conciliate between the parties where possible and appropriate. I see no reason that this was neither possible nor appropriate. Any effective conciliation must include making contact with the parties concerned to examine what the possibilities are in this respect. None of this seems to have happened. Why?
    2) He has specifically discounted suggestions that all this was part of a political campaign against Lord Rennard. Why? He offers no reason for doing so and makes his investigation and conclusions potentially inaccurate in a very serious way. I am not suggesting there was such a campaign but the possibility was raised and he has not dealt with it.

    In addition the English Party Executive (I think, or was it the English Finance and Administration as laid down in the rules?) considered his report and recommendations but it is not clear if they followed the procedure set down in Rule 7.9. This requires that the investigator presents the case and asks each witness to give their account; after which , in this case, Lord Rennard, or his representative, may ask questions followed by Lord Rennard giving his account and calling any witness he wishes. It may well all have happened but somehow I get the suppression that it didn’t – certainly Tim Farron’s response makes no reference to any such process merely saying that the party has no choice but to accept Alistair Webster’s conclusions – which I would dispute anyway. In fact there is no provision in the rules to require an apology; the nearest (Rule 7.10 (iv)) is to reprimand him.

    I get no feeling that the Party’s Disciplinary Procedure has been properly followed and if I am right then Lord Rennard certainly has a cast iron case for appealing.

    The whole matter seems to be an absolute shambles but perhaps somebody can enlighten me as to what process was actually followed.

  • John Smithson concludes with the perfectly polite and reasonable point —

    The whole matter seems to be an absolute shambles but perhaps somebody can enlighten me as to what process was actually followed.

    Can anybody from the party hierarchy please give us a simple factual account of the decision making process on Chris Rennard’s membership ?
    We have been told via the press that on Monday morning a formal committee of the party had met and reached a decision.
    Who were the participants in that committee?
    Who called the meeting?
    What exactly was their decision based on?

    It is surely not unreasonable to ask these questions and to expect someone maybe the Party President to provide a simple, factual answer.

  • @Justin Usherford

    If a company behaved in the way you imply they would be found wanting at the employment tribunal (or in the case of chief exec more likely the County Court due to the sums involved). Companies that do not follow the ACAS code are not only likely to lose but they will also pay an additional amount of up to 25% for failing to follow due process.

    You have to have a valid reason to dismiss, untested allegation, however credible the evidence, would not count. It could be argued that SOSTR would apply but this again would be doomed to failure due a lack of a full and fair process.

  • “He has specifically discounted suggestions that all this was part of a political campaign against Lord Rennard. Why? He offers no reason for doing so …”

    I think it does have to be borne in mind that we’ve seen only two short public statements by Webster, not the full report.

    In addition the English Party Executive (I think, or was it the English Finance and Administration as laid down in the rules?) considered his report and recommendations but it is not clear if they followed the procedure set down in Rule 7.9.

    But that procedure would be followed only if Webster had reported there was sufficient evidence to proceed, which he didn’t. We know the constitution makes no provision for any recommendations in those circumstances, so whatever use has been made of the report is outside the constitutional framework.

  • In the party of open government and transparency one might expect better. I have searched the party website for any information on the committee which met on Monday — I can find nothing. If anyone else can please could you provide a link?

    Meanwhile anyone wanting the “LATEST NEWS” from the website can go to –
    http://www.libdems.org.uk/latest_news.aspx

    It would appear that nothing has happened in the party since 9th January.

  • Please note, Justin Usherford, Steve Way etc, Chris Rennard is NOT the Chief Executive. He is a former Chief Exec and prior to that, Campaigns Director. As far as I know, he is not now, and hasn’t been for several years, a Party employee.

  • As David Howarth says, the use of political power for improper purposes should fall within the definition of bringing the party into disrepute. Defying the leader in refusing to apologise should not – at least within the liberal Democrat party. So it is important that the inquiry which will now follow Chris Rennard’s suspension should focus on the right issues – as no doubt it will.
    We are given to understand that whatever the status of the inquiry, Chris Rennard had agreed to it and it would therefore be reasonable that he should go along with his findings. It would not be difficult for him to find a form of words for an apology which would not open him to legal action, should he wish to.
    However, it seems unlikely that an apology, even if it were forthcoming, would now suffice. Party procedures must now follow their course, for Chris Rennard as they would for any other member. Sadly, sometimes the party has no option but to consider expelling a member, however unpalatable that may be,, however distinguished the member.

  • Tony Greaves 23rd Jan '14 - 12:21pm

    You can guess what you like but until someone tells us what happened, we don’t know.

    It seems from all this that the English Party is (in this respect at least) dysfunctional and if one thing that happens, as a result of all this, is a new constitutional settlement that gets rid of the English Party, some good may come out of it.

    Tony

  • Carl Gardner 23rd Jan ’14 – 10:58am
    … … “I don’t know anything about any meeting. But the fresh disciplinary case about the failure to apologise must have been initiated by a local party, a regional party or the English party, under rule 7.3. So I guess there may have been a meeting that decided to do that.”

    This is the press report —
    On Monday the Regional Parties Committee, which oversees disciplinary procedures under the English Party membership rules, decided to suspend Lord Rennard’s membership of the party pending a disciplinary procedure minutes before he was preparing to defy Nick Clegg and take his seat in the House of Lords.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nick-clegg/10583439/Lord-Rennard-the-story-so-far.html

  • @Tim 13
    I am aware of that, I was responding to the hypothetical situation Justin Usherford stated and pointing out that even in that situation due process is key.

  • John Smithson 24th Jan '14 - 3:27pm

    But that procedure would be followed only if Webster had reported there was sufficient evidence to proceed, which he didn’t.

    But rule 7.6 (vi) says in such circumstances that the investigator is responsible for presenting the complaint at any subsequent Disciplinary Meeting and for ensuring the attendance of all witnesses who can substantiate it. It seems to me that the meeting held to consider the report would and should have been a disciplinary meeting in terms of the rules on these matters. So what was actually done at that meeting?

    By the way whoever wrote these rules showed a distinct lack of clarity and cxonsiteny in poarts of the text: they desperately need re-writing.

  • The latest suspension, this time an MP. Can anyone tell me? Was this also done by the Regional Parties Committee?

    Portsmouth local party say he was suspended by “Party HQ” in the piece elsewhere in LDV. Does anyone know the facts ? Can anyone post here if in fact it was the Regional Parties Committee?

  • Those seeking information on the Regional Parties Committee might think it reasonable to go to the party website.
    http://www.libdems.org.uk/latest_news.aspx

    I commented a couple of days ago that the LATEST NEWS section of the party website had not been updated since 9th January. It now has been updated to include the following —

    Take home pay rose a third faster than inflation – Tim FarronFri, 24 Jan 2014
    Figures released today by the Office of National Statistics show that thanks to Liberal Democrats’ tax cut, take home pay rose a third faster than inflation last year.

    So we are still waiting to be told anything about the very elusive Regional Parties Committee.

  • Simon Banks 26th Jan '14 - 2:53pm

    I think Chris Rennard should apologise and I can’t believe that something along the lines of “Having read Alistair Webster’s report, while the redaction leaves me unclear on vital points, it is clear that I have inadvertently caused offence and distress to valued colleagues. I apologise for that and will learn from it” would count against him in court. It’s not disputed that the complainants were genuinely offended. However, I agree with David Howarth. If misconduct in office were demonstrated, that would be grounds for suspension. Embarrassing the party by refusing to apologise should not.

  • STILL NO ANSWERS to the Regional Parties Committee questions asked here —
    23rd Jan ’14 – 9:17am
    Can anybody from the party hierarchy please give us a simple factual account of the decision making process on Chris Rennard’s membership ?
    We have been told via the press that on Monday morning a formal committee of the party had met and reached a decision.
    Who were the participants in that committee?
    Who called the meeting?
    What exactly was their decision based on?

    It is surely not unreasonable to ask these questions and to expect someone maybe the Party President to provide a simple, factual answer.

  • Chris Manners 26th Jan '14 - 5:01pm

    Alistair Webster’s job wasn’t to tell the party what was disreputable and what wasn’t. He wasn’t investigating whether Rennard should be disciplined or not.

    Disrepute is something you should know when you see it.

  • If Mike Wheatley reads LDV please could you answer my earlier questions about the Regional Parties Committee meeting last Monday? If anyone knows Mike could you forward this request to him?

    Thanks to Brian Orrell for this info on the elusive ‘Regional Parties Committee’ —

    In 2012, the English Council Executive (ECE) which represents all 11 Regions under its new Chair, Peter Ellis and Vice-Chair, Mike Wheatley proposed to split the existing English Finance and Administration Committee (EFAC) into two separate committees with two clearly defined roles. One would continue as EFAC and would continue to deal with Finance, staffing, membership fees, including incentives and rebates, statistics and trends and the other would be the new Regional Parties Committee which would deal with any disciplinary issues in Local Parties, Council Groups and Regions including any investigations and revocation of membership. These important changes were approved by English Council in June 2012.

    If you can find the English Party Constitution or any constitution on the Lib Dem Party website, it should have been incorporated there.

    The Regional Parties Committee is chaired by Mike Wheatley whoo is currently the Vice-Chair of the English Party and a former Chair of South East Region.

  • I doubt that anyone is still reading this thread. If anyone is – then. This is to let you know that I have had an answer to some of my questions from Mike Wheatley who chairs the committee which took the decision to suspend Chris Rennard.

  • Just for the record, the new party website reveals the following about the Regional Parties Committee —

    RPC usually meet around 5 times a year to encourage best practice amongst Regions, to discuss compliance issues and to draft strategies to promote the development of Regional Parties in terms of campaigning activity, membership and fundraising.

    The RPC is chaired by the Vice-Chair, the Chair, Chair of the English Candidates Committee and four members elected by and from the ECE are also in attendance. Six other members of the English Council may also be co-opted however these have to be ratified by the ECE, these co-options must, in the eyes of the ECE poses experience or expertise relevant to the function of the RPC. Relevant members of staff may also be invited to these meetings although they do not have a vote.

    So –if I understand this correctly – 12 members, half of whom are “co-opted”. None of the members of the committee are directly elected and therefore none have any direct accountability to the members of the part. the ECE which is in itself a rather remote body to most ordinary members therefore appoints a sub committee half of the members of which re co-opted.

    I can find no information at first look of the members of the committee.

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