Published on 25 Feb 2013

Clegg, Rennard and that ‘resignation’

One source with a very good claim to know the working of Nick Clegg’s thoughts on the subject described the deputy prime minister to me as “the first leader to do something about (Chris Rennard)” – hardly consistent with the official line that the party reluctantly lost Chris Rennard’s services only due to diabetes. What actually seems to have happened is a secret agreement between the party bigwigs and Lord Rennard to keep the other reasons for his departure quiet.

The truth is that in addition to the rumours of allegations about inappropriate behaviour (strongly denied by Lord Rennard) the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, was amongst a growing number of figures in the party who thought Lord Rennard was past his sell-by date as a campaigning wizard.
 
Nick Clegg complained privately after taking over the leadership of the Lib Dems of how the party’s chief executive hoarded information, didn’t pool it with colleagues using IT, kept it all in his head.

Mr Clegg also complained about what he perceived as  Lord Rennard’s lack of ambition for the Liberal Democrats. Mr Clegg wanted to aim for 100+ seats and Chris Rennard was wedded to a more focused campaign on a smaller number of seats, each fought with the tenacity of a by-election.

By a twist of fate, that is exactly how Nick Clegg hopes to fight the next general election. But that wasn’t how he saw things in 2009.

When Lord Rennard caught the headlines over his expenses,  one senior activist tells me, the leadership saw the opportunity to ease him out of his post. There would be no mention of any allegations surrounding his behaviour and there would be an understanding that the party would refer to health grounds. Lord Rennard did indeed suffer from diabetes and went on a strict diet losing some weight immediately after leaving his job.

You can imagine how all this must’ve seemed doubly useful to senior figures in the party who might’ve been concerned about the other allegations which Cathy Newman reported on last week.

Nick Clegg in his response to the crisis has probably made things even worse for himself.

He’s already had to retreat from the first comment by his office that he didn’t know about the allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour  until Channel 4 News put them to him – he now says he didn’t know about “specific” or “very specific” allegations.

His statement yesterday evening looked a little brittle. Nick Clegg clearly felt nauseated by the idea that he wouldn’t take such allegations seriously.

But proclaiming your own virtue is rarely as helpful as giving people grounds to observe it for themselves. Arguably, Nick Clegg should’ve focused less on defending his own hurt sense of honour and more on contrition about collective failures in the party.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron’s not always seen as the most diplomatic or measured figure but his admission that “we screwed this up as a party” might have come better from Nick Clegg’s lips. 

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2 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    Congratulations to C4News for the manner of handling this latest development.

    But given your knowledge of earlier events why did it take this long for the issue to be aired?

    By now most reasonably informed citizens are aware that power can be a potent aphrodisiac, so the Rennard allegations are no real surprise. I suspect that somewhere there is much worse lurking in London’s corrupt offices and town houses. Priapic nonsense happens so often it has now reached farcical levels.

    While we are in the current flood of self-righteousness can we have some exposure (as it were) of the lurid sexual exploits of TV news presenters and journalists? All in the public interest of course.
    :-)

  2. sue_m says:

    Like almost any woman who has or does work for a living, I am fully aware that most workplaces have an office ‘lech’. It is wrong but will always happen while men hold the majority of positions of power. Most savvy women soon learn the art of a withering verbal put down which keeps these unsavoury characters at bay. If it persists then a formal complaint has to be made, within the organisation not to a news broadcaster.
    So, since it happens everyday in offices across the country without report, I have to ask why C4 has made such a deal out of this particular story in this particular week? It can only make Eastleigh so much more likely to go to the Tories. And so soon after Michael Crick coming to the aid of Andrew Mitchell (a friend of his apparently?) it just makes me wonder if C4 is still as unbiased as I believed.
    Why hang Nick Clegg out to dry? He dealt discreetly with the issue of Rennard at the time. What more do you expect – shouting from the rooftops about it? Clegg is being treated like he’s committed a crime when it appears he has done more than most employers would in this situation.

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