Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Lord Rennard scandal: Labour and Tories 'should expect harassment claims', warns Alison Smith

Former Lib Dem member, Alison Smith, says the Conservatives and Labour should brace themselves for similar complaints
  • @NigelpMorris

Politicians from other parties may find themselves being accused of sexual harassment, a Liberal Democrat adviser who alleges she was inappropriately touched by Lord Rennard has said.

Alison Smith, a  former Lib Dem member who plans to talk to the Metropolitan Police about her claims, said the Conservatives and Labour should brace themselves for similar complaints.

She said she had had tweets and Facebook messages from people in other parties, who  said “actually this happened to me and it was horrible, and I didn't feel I could do anything about it, and I just resigned my job rather than complaining, and now I'm thinking about forward or actually complaining now”.

Up to five women were said to be speaking to Scotland Yard officers investigating claims against the former chief executive of the Lib Dems.

Metropolitan police said they were “not prepared to discuss” claims that officers are poised to interview a number of women, who are said to have called a dedicated hotline, in the next few days.

Scotland Yard has met senior Liberal Democrats to investigate whether any criminal activity has taken place and the party has launched two internal inquiries.

Lord Rennard, who stepped down as chief executive on health grounds, has said he is ready to “co-operate with any properly-constituted inquiry” into allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

The peer has issued a series of strenuous denials of any wrongdoing and has stressed that no complaint about his behaviour was ever received by him.

Some women who worked closely with Lord Rennard for several years said they were stunned by the allegations of sexual harassment against him and insisted they had never witnessed any incident that merited a complaint.

One woman who worked with for the Liberal Democrats' former chief executive in the 1990s suggested that the female party activists complaining about might need to “toughen up a bit”.

“Politics is about power and sex and when alcohol gets involved the atmosphere at conferences can be quite heady,” she told The Independent . “There are politicians of all parties who tell you they aren't married when you know full well they are. You just tell them to stop.”

Another woman who worked with Lord Rennard during the same period said she never heard or saw anything that made her suspicious, while a third female former Lib Dem worker who knew him well in the 1990s and is still closely involved with the party said that there was never an “open secret”. “I learnt about these allegations just as Channel 4 was about to run the story,” she said.

However, other women activists insisted that the allegations should not be dismissed lightly - and said females in other parties had experienced similar problems.

Gisela Stuart, a former Labour minister, told BBC Radio 4 she stopped a Tory MP pestering her by telling him: “You've got about five seconds to shift, after which my knee will be in a place which you will remember for a very, very long time.” After that they had a perfectly reasonable working relationship, she said.

Sheila Gunn, who was press adviser to the former Prime Minister Sir John Major, said a senior politician walked her home “and before I knew it he was chasing me up the stairs…I burst into tears and started mumbling about an ex-boyfriend.”

During a visit to the Aston Martin car factory in Warwickshire, Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he wanted the investigations into Lord Rennard's alleged behaviour carried out “as quickly as possible”.

“The key thing, not least for the women involved, is that the investigations get their work done as quickly as possible,” he said.

“It's crucial we get to the bottom of the truth.”