Lord Rennard scandal: Nick Clegg faces grassroots anger over response to harassment claims
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Friday 01 March 2013
Liberal Democrat members are to confront Nick Clegg over his response to allegations that party activists were sexually harassed by Lord Rennard, its former chief executive.
An emergency motion criticising the leadership’s response to the claims is expected to be tabled at the party’s spring conference in Brighton next weekend. Grassroots members are angry that the allegations were not taken more seriously when they surfaced in 2008, and upset by Mr Clegg’s reaction when the details became public nine days ago.
The move could take some of the shine off the party’s victory in Thursday’s Eastleigh by-election, which will be celebrated at the conference. Leadership sources admit the scandal is likely to be a last-minute addition to the agenda. “We are happy to discuss it; we are not trying to sweep it under the carpet,” one said.
Although Lord Rennard has denied the claims, party officials are braced for more revelations by women members who claim they were victims of inappropriate behaviour. Some are said to have quit as parliamentary candidates because of it.
Some critics kept their powder dry until after the by-election so as not to undermine the party’s prospects. Naomi Smith, co-chair of the Social Liberal Forum, an 1,800-strong group on the party’s left, said that if the allegations were true, a “serious abuse of power” had pervaded the party for several years, despite its commitment to equality.
Ms Smith, a former candidate, said the “general concerns” raised in 2008 should have led to a review of protocol, the introduction of anti-harassment training, and a firm message from Mr Clegg to all staff and volunteers that such behaviour, if uncovered, would lead to immediate dismissal.
“Since news of the allegations broke last week, the response has been poorly managed by Nick Clegg,” she said.
“He has been defensive and failed to quickly get out into the open all of the information about what he knew and when.”
The party’s 57 MPs include only seven women and Ms Smith warned: “If we fail to act properly now – we’re unlikely improve our prospects with female (and male!) voters, let alone attract good female candidates.”
She continued: “Those who have criticised the alleged victims should understand that these women had precious little power compared with those they are alleging harassed them and compared to those with whom they voiced their concerns and, in one case at least, made a formal complaint.”
Ms Smith added: “Now is not the time for senior Lib Dems to dismiss the seriousness of harassment, nor to condemn these women for bravely speaking up, nor to criticise journalists for being self-appointed detectives [as Mr Clegg said this week]. It is time to set an example to other organisations, to condemn sexism in society, and to allow a full, open and independent investigation into the events surrounding Lord Rennard.”
That's some guestlist! Stunning images show huge dynastic wedding between Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families which attracted 25,000 guests
Emergency landing at Heathrow sparks further controversy over London airport capacity
Two bailed after arrest over Woolwich attack Twitter comments
Exclusive: Woolwich killings suspect Michael Adebolajo was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam
Men arrested after RAF jet is scrambled to escort Pakistan Airlines passenger plane to London Stansted Airport
- 1 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 2 'Something passed underneath us, quite close': Airbus A320 has close encounter with UFO
- 3 Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
- 4 Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
- 5 Exclusive: Woolwich killings suspect Michael Adebolajo was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.