With his own political future still in the balance, Nick Clegg faced calls on Thursday night to expel the former Liberal Democrat chief executive Lord Rennard from the party after he apologised to four women who had accused him of sexual harassment.
The peer expressed his regret to the women after spending 15 months denying any wrongdoing – and Lord Rennard, who was suspended from the Lib Dems four months ago over the allegations, could now attempt to rejoin the party with the support of his supporters in the Lords. But Mr Clegg, whose leadership is already under strain following dismal local and Euro election results last week, was urged by two of the women to kick him out of the party.
In a copy of the peer’s apology, obtained by Channel 4 News, he accepted he “may well have encroached upon ‘personal space’” and says he would like to “apologise sincerely for any such intrusion”, which he says “would have been inadvertent”.
Lord Rennard expressed “regret for any harm or embarrassment caused” to the women who complained, Susan Gaszczak, Alison Goldsworthy, Bridget Harris and Alison Smith. He said he accepted the conclusions of an internal party inquiry which concluded that “no further action” was necessary but called on Lord Rennard to apologise.
Ms Gaszczak said she would tear up her party membership unless the peer was expelled. Ms Goldsworthy made the same call, adding: “There is no reason for him [Nick Clegg] to be cowed by Lord Rennard.” A Lib Dem spokesman said the party could not comment while internal investigations continued.
Stephen Tall, co-editor of the influential Lib Dem Voice blog, yesterday called for Mr Clegg’s resignation, but suggested he could stay on as Deputy Prime Minister until the general election. “If Nick Clegg stands down now as party leader, he would go out with his head held high,” he said.
Senior Lib Dems sought to draw a line under the turmoil provoked by the revelation of a failed attempt by Lord Oakeshott to engineer a coup against the Lib Dem leader.