21 Jan 2014

Lib Dem bloodbaths, conciliation, and the Liberal flame

For those still struggling to understand how the Lib Dems have got themselves in the pickle they’re in, this commentary from former MP David Howarth gives you a flavour of how things look to some Lib Dems.

Mr Howarth writes that the current threat from the leadership is based on completely different grounds from the original inquiry into improper conduct. Now, Mr Howarth says, the leadership is effectively threatening expulsion for failing to agree with the leader:

“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?”

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg delivers a speech on mental health, in central London

The response from the Lib Dem leadership to arguments like Mr Howarth’s is that this isn’t the leader demanding blind loyalty to a policy but Nick Clegg trying to get a member to do what is right by the women who have brought the complaints. You have the emotional side of liberalism in conflict with the intellectual side of the creed. In Labour or the Conservatives there would be no such philosophical discourse, drowned out by the dull thud of a pre-emptive bullet.

Will the leadership end up making peace with the man who won it so much electoral success over the years? Interestingly, a source in the leadership tells me that even if Lord Rennard did apologise now,  the new inquiry is into whether he brought the party into disrepute by defying the call to apologise for the 48 hours before the new inquiry was set up. So, even if he apologises in the next few days, the second inquiry would continue down its tracks and could technically come to the conclusion that it was too little, too late, or just right and too late.

Lord Rennard’s supporters will see that as inflamatory. The leadership would say it is due process. The leadership say the inflamatory stuff is coming from friends of Lord Rennard talking about a “bloodbath” in the courts. By the way, there is a moment in Lord Rennard’s statement yesterday when he seems to entertain the possibility of coming back to work for Nick Clegg:

“I would ask (Nick Clegg), now that he has more knowledge of the facts, to ask for any threat to me to be withdrawn and to insist that I see the report, to which I am entitled, and to let me help him and my party again in future.”

I don’t think he should wait by the phone for that.

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2 reader comments

  1. Andrew Debian says:

    Two wrongs, not even three wrongs, make a right – the women in this case have been wronged by the party for not dealing with their concerns in a timely and effective manner. The party were wrong for handling the matter (when they got round to it) in such a crude and secretive way and equally wrong for insisting on an apology from Lord Rennard without having the decency to present the report upon which that demand was based.
    Even if Rennard resigns where does the party go from here? Onwards and upwards or backwards and downwards? – Will they have sufficient seats and credibility in 2015 to be a coalition partner for a second time?

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    Howarth needn’t worry.

    The Cleggies DID merge with New Labour…..and the tories.

    After all, we live in a de facto one party ultraright neocon state with three right wing factions.

    I don’t see what his problem is.

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