Lord Rennard: A prominent and powerful 'Rasputin figure' who ruled the Lib Dem machine

Chris Rennard turned the party into credible election winners, writes Martin Hickman

Many voters may be puzzled as to why the media is devoting so much time and space to picking over the suggestion that a seemingly obscure panjandrum in Britain’s third party is a groper.

The Westminster chattering classes know Chris Rennard as the secret of the Liberal Democrats’ recent successes, a backroom guru influential at its London headquarters for decades – the Rasputin of the Liberals. Unlike the swarthy mystic who mesmerised the Imperial Court of Russia with his hypnotic eyes, the 52-year-old peer is unimposing; podgy, bespectacled and balding.

But inside headquarters in Cowley Street, round the corner from the Houses of Parliament, he was just as commanding – and feared.

He ruled the party machine for more than a decade, first as Director of Campaigns and Elections between 1989 and 2002 and then as a chief executive in 2003 to 2009.

His greatest achievement was transforming the Liberal Democrats from the also-rans of British politics into a credible election-winning force. In 2010, the Liverpudlian left the party with sufficient seats to sweep into power for the first time in generations. Having party members sit round the Cabinet table must have seemed a distant prospect when, as a young agent in 1983, he helped return David Alton as the Liberal MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill.

By then, he was used to overcoming the odds: his dentist father had died when he was three and his disabled mother when he was a teenager. He joined the party because its councillors had helped his mother.

During his career as a local agent, then regional agent and then national campaigns supremo, he adopted the philosophy that the Liberals should be the hyper-local, practical party.

Under his guidance, Liberal Democrat councillors ensured that potholes were fixed, lampposts renewed and bent swings in the local park replaced – and that those minor triumphs were then trumpeted in local newsletters slipped into brown envelopes and addressed by hand. He also developed a national strategy to establish the Liberal Democrats nationally, first in toeholds and then strongholds in every part of the UK, rather than being focused in the Celtic fringes. He was a kingmaker who worked closely with successive leaders, first helping Paddy Ashdown’s doubling of seats to 46 at the 1997 general election.

It was he who manoeuvred young Nick Clegg into the safe seat of Sheffield Hallam and, as returning officer in 2007, determined that a batch of late postal votes, that would have handed the leadership to his rival Chris Huhne, were not accepted.

The allegations against Baron Rennard of Wavertree are serious to the party not only because of his prominence and power but also because, amid claims they were brushed aside, they have been transmuted into allegations against the whole party, which has always prided itself on its record on women’s rights.

They are also set against a slump in the polls and a series of scandals besetting some of the party’s best known figures. In recent weeks, Greater Manchester Police has named the late Cyril Smith MP as a groper of teenage boys; lawyers acting for a woman who claims she was indecently assaulted by the Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock are demanding a party inquiry; and the former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne awaits sentencing for perverting the course of justice.

Lord Rennard vigorously denies the allegations, saying that the party did not receive a single complaint against him in his 27 years’ service, to his knowledge. Whatever happens to the allegations, insiders are in no doubt about the scale of his contribution.

One senior peer said last night: “Chris Rennard is one of the best minds and shrewdest strategists I have ever come across in many years.”

The question is whether a party that was for so long a loser conveniently ignored allegations against him, because he was a winner.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis