Coffee House

Lord Rennard: The key questions

25 February 2013

As James observed last night, Nick Clegg’s statement on the Rennard allegations raised more questions than it answered. Lord Rennard continues to strenuously deny the claims of sexual harassment made on Channel 4 News last week and in other reports since. But the problem is that when allegations were being made and rumours were circulating, nothing was done, regardless of whether those claims would have been proven or not. And as Nick Clegg hasn’t closed down the row, here are five questions that the party and those examining it will want to answer:

1. There are discrepancies between the different accounts of when the Lib Dem leadership received the specific allegations from Channel 4. Cathy Newman says she first had a tip-off about this three years ago, and that the Channel 4 newsroom gave the party full details of the allegations to be broadcast two days before the broadcast. The programme’s news editor Ben De Pear tweeted: ‘we gave Lib Dems womens’ allegations 53 hrs before broadcast, they replied @18.59 on day of broadcast’. Channel 4 News starts at 19.00.

But Nick Clegg said ‘I did not know about these allegations until Channel 4 informed the party of them shortly before they were broadcast’. Vince Cable said the same on Pienaar’s Politics last night.

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2. What are ‘indirect and non-specific concerns’? Clegg said in his statement that these were ‘anonymous’ and were taken to his office ‘indirectly’ in 2008. Tim Farron told the Today programme that he heard a ‘general rumour year or so ago’. But Alison Smith said she was trying to complain and found herself in a ‘Kafkaesque’ nightmare where she was repeatedly told that no-one wanted to make a formal complaint, even though she wanted to do so herself. Were her complaints ‘indirect and non-specific’?

3. Were those examining the allegations too close to Rennard? He was a highly-respected figure essential to the party’s by-election success. The Mail alleges today that one of the members of staff who responded to those ‘indirect and non-specific concerns’ was Alison Suttie, who apparently referred to herself as Lord Rennard’s ‘niece’. Clegg says Danny Alexander spoke to Rennard about his conduct, but were any efforts made to take formal complaints or to probe further the rumours that were circulating? If not, the Lib Dems are suffering from the same curious lack of curiosity found in other institutions sitting on a scandal. Was it the case that the leadership didn’t believe the allegations, whether they would be proven true or not, were just not very serious?

4. What role did the allegations play in Rennard’s resignation as chief executive? He stepped down on health grounds, but were the allegations part of the discussions he held with Danny Alexander shortly before the resignation?

5. Is there a wider culture of sexism and sexual harassment in Westminster? Lord Rennard is unlikely to have been the only alleged ‘sex pest’ operating in Parliament, and as many MPs from other parties have been careful to say over the weekend, rumours circulate about many parliamentarians. What wider lessons are there for the Westminster village? Is there a possibility that there are others who didn’t feel they could complain after inappropriate treatment, whether because they felt bound by party loyalty, or that they’d be told they should buck up their ideas and accept that a bit of inappropriate touching comes with the territory? This row could well encourage others to come forward.

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Show comments
  • Terence Hale

    Lord Rennard; Naughty Boy. Write one hundred times “I must
    not …….”

  • Anti-Janus

    It maybe that Clegg is hoping that everyone steers clear of the other elephant in the room with regard to Rennard, his parliamentary expenses. This man is appears to be a serial fiddler in more ways than one!

  • BlueScreenOfDeath

    Ah, once again Clegg and Co. set out to demonstrate that there is no scandal so egregious that it cannot be made infinitely worse by attempting to cover it up.

  • Ron Todd

    When I had senior colleagues deny on my behalf that I knew
    nothing about the Lord Rennard allegations what I obviously meant was I knew
    nothing about that particular allegation which is a totally separate matter from
    all the similar allegations that I have known about for the last five years and
    had investigated fully be somebody who might or might not have been a neice of
    Why should any of us peasants be the least suspicious?

  • David Ossitt

    It is a given fact that all politicians; from each and every political party, will, on occasion tell lies, particularly to gain an advantage over their opponents (not necessarily in opposing parties) or to cover up their mistakes and fallibility and especially if they think that they can get away with it.

    However the Liberal Party and of recent years we must now include the LibDems, have
    always lied, it is quite frankly their modus operandi, they can not help it, it is as much part of their make-up as their silly-Billy policies and their penchant for ugly minded women, just think Lynne Featherstone MP.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Here’s some more questions for “Pervgate”?

    6. How many female politicians have actually used such inappropriate behaviour to advance their political career by turning it back on the instigator or manipulating the instigator? Are some staying silent as a result?

    7. Rennard apparently has claimed he had no knowledge of the accusations until the Channel 4 show yet both Clegg and Alexander claim that Rennard was advised that such behaviour was unnacceptable in strong terms. Clearly someone is stretching the truth beyond the point of plausibility. Who?

    8. Does anyone seriously believe that Clegg did not even ask what the detail of the allegations was?

    9. If Clegg didn’t further enquire about the allegations (at least as to their volume, veracity and seriousness) then why not ( it is after all a fairly obvious and very sensible thing to do)? Surely if he consciously did not further enquire is that not evidence of a cynical and callous attitude of plausible deniability and putting party and self-interest before that of any potential victims both past and future?

    10. What was Rennard’s role if any in Clegg becoming an MEP? an MP? Party Leader?

    10 If Rennard’s had provided significance assistance to Clegg in his rise through the Libdem Party did that influence Clegg?

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Do I not remember that the whole political/media establishment, including the spect, covered up Charlie Kennedy’s little problem? Whilst he stood for election as a candidate for PM (yes, in theory only) and would have had his shaking finger on the nuclear button. Coverups are the norm. But the press do not give anybody credit for coming clean, a scandal is a scandal.

  • The Sage

    Is anyone going to reveal on what “health grounds” Lord Rennard resigned?
    If these prove to be spurious………
    He also seems to have made a remarkable recovery in recent times from whatever seriois illness was previously afflicting him.

    • Tom Tom

      Alzheimers promises the speediest recovery judging from Ernest Saunders

  • Swiss Bob

    And the Labour party’s impersonation of the SS-Totenkopfverbände disappears from the media’s agenda never to be seen again.

  • borderlinefools
  • Rhoda Klapp

    Of course they knew. Of course they covered it up. Everybody does. Yes, everybody.The only question is how bad does it have to be before you will not cover it up. I put it to you that in the case of groping, no crime carried out, any organisation you care to name is going to cover it up. The lesson is that it is no good for the women affected to quietly go to the bosses and complain. Shout your bloody head off if you know you are right. Keep schtum if you are not sure.

    (Apoolgies to anyfool on the first of these posts, I hadn’t quite got what he was saying.)

  • Colonel Mustard

    I’m surprised this totally unacceptable leg patting behaviour has not been referred to the new NCA for investigation or resulted in a slew of allegations from forty years ago.

  • Alan Douglas

    I’m so pleased to see the Lib Dems are facing as many way (2) on this as on all other political matters. That, my friends, is consistency (consistantly inconsistant !)

    Alan Douglas

  • toco10

    Cleggate is a prime example as to why those in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones.The LibDems for years have promoted their squeaky clean image which has fooled many of us into believing that just perhaps they did strive to be different.That has now gone up in smoke and they are firmly bottom of the class.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Squeaky clean? Have a read of Stephen Glover in the DM for the long history of Lib Dem deviance.

  • MirthaTidville

    For so long they have pretended to live on the moral high ground. Now they have been shown to be just as corrupt and rotten as all the others at Westminster. Rennard`s distateful antics might have, unintentionally, done politics a massive favour.

  • Tom Tom

    The real question is when did Fraser Nelson know ? When did Boris Johnson know ? When did Matthew d’Ancona know ?

    • C Cole

      I loved the bit in The Thick Of It (the episode at the radio station) where Malcolm and his opposite number started threatening each other with the various incriminating stories they had tucked away at the back of a filing cabinet for a rainy day…

  • UlyssesReturns

    They say a fish rots from the head down but it would seem to any reasonable observer that this disgusting political party is rotten throughout (though the head is perhaps in a worse state than the rest).

  • tim crowley

    Why dont you mention #PaulBurstow? has he tried to gag you?

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