Lord Rennard analysis: A battle between rules and political expediency

 

For anyone seeking to understand why the Liberal Democrats have got themselves into such a mess over the Rennard affair it is worth recalling a conversation between David Laws and William Hague during Coalition negotiations in 2010.

Asked to describe his party, Mr Hague said the Tories were like “an absolute monarchy, moderated by regicide”. Mr Laws said the Liberal Democrats were like an “absolute democracy, moderated by very little”.

And that in a nutshell is Nick Clegg’s problem. He would dearly love to remove the whip from Lord Rennard and expel him from the party’s powerful Federal Policy Committee. But Liberal Democrat democratic structures make both impossible.

Membership of the Federal Policy Committee is decided by a vote of all Liberal Democrat members and while Lord Rennard is still a member of the party he cannot be expelled from the FPC.

In Mr Clegg’s ideal world Alistair Webster QC, who examined the allegations, would have concluded that he had a case to answer and it would have then progressed through the party’s disciplinary procedures.

But because party rules say that any case has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, Mr Webster concluded this could not be done. Instead he tried to claim both that the evidence given by the complainants “was broadly credible” while judging that it was not good enough to have a reasonable chance of being proven.

That put Mr Clegg in the invidious situation of defending a position he knew to be untenable while being powerless to do anything about it. The case of removing the whip from Lord Rennard in the House of Lords has posed a similar problem.

Mr Clegg could have instructed the Chief Whip to do this. But if Lord Rennard were to appeal, party rules state that it should be decided by a democratic vote of Liberal Democrat peers. And Mr Clegg knows that a majority of his peers don’t think Lord Rennard should lose the whip. Many are former MPs and parliamentary candidates whom Lord Rennard helped elect and campaign for.

In the face of such an impasse yesterday the party announced a new disciplinary inquiry into whether Lord Rennard has brought the party into disrepute by his failure to apologise.

But this is the worst of all worlds. For Lord Rennard to be expelled from the party for refusing to apologise for something he maintains he has never done and which has never been proved against him really would be an injustice. Democracy is messy. But rules and safeguards should not be overridden for political expediency.

Read more:
Lord Rennard sexual harassment claims: Embattled Liberal Democrat election guru issues extraordinary public statement after suspension from party
Nick Clegg can’t sack Lord Rennard, and Lord Rennard can’t apologise. It’s just another day of lose-lose politics
Lord Rennard: His statement in full
Lord Rennard has exposed the Lib Dem attitude to women  
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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 General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before