8 Mar 2013

What are the Lib Dems doing about Rennard claims?


As the Lib Dem spring conference is overshadowed by the recent allegations about the behaviour of Lord Rennard, Cathy Newman finds there are still many unanswered questions.

Lord Rennard

We have now requested interviews with Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson over the Rennard affair for 18 days. They have repeatedly declined.

Some have suggested we should drop it and move on. But when Ms Swinson, the women’s minister, spoke to the Lib Dem faithful in Brighton tonight, her address failed to answer the questions we’d like to put to her. So the interview bid stands.

Apart from a brief written statement, tonight was the first time Ms Swinson had responded in person to the investigation we aired last month, which alleged that the party’s former chief executive Lord Rennard abused his power by behaving inappropriately towards women.

‘Unwanted advances’

But here are the questions left unanswered: she says “a number of women” confided to her about “unwanted advances” from Lord Rennard.

How many? And what form did her inquiries take? Was she carrying out investigations proactively, or was she a mere conduit for concerns which happened to come her way?

She says the women who spoke to her “had an entirely understandable wish for privacy which I was careful to respect – so of course I didn’t name names when I spoke to people in the leader’s office”.

However, two of the women we interviewed – Bridget Harris and Alison Smith – were happy to identify themselves to the party, and indeed put their names to complaints to their line manager and the party whip respectively.

How many ‘named names?’

And although Ms Swinson didn’t “name names” to the leader, an email from a party campaigns officer to several women urges them to contact the leader’s office themselves. How many did?

Ms Swinson says she “made sure that further action was taken”. But that action appears to have constituted the leader’s then aide Danny Alexander confronting Lord Rennard, who denied the allegations.

So why is the party dealing with the complaints now, belatedly, when Lord Rennard continues to deny the allegations? Why launch inquiries and talk to the police now, and not then?

Ms Swinson concludes by saying she hasn’t heard “any account of inappropriate behaviour subsequent to the action Danny and I took”.

We at Channel 4 are not aware of any recent incidents.

But does she admit that we nor she really don’t know, because the party, as Mr Clegg admitted tonight, failed to deal with the complaints properly all those years ago?