Lord Rennard victim of a 'whispering campaign'

Allies of the former Lib Dem chief executive accuse ex-colleagues of a vendetta against him

Liberal Democrat grandee Lord Rennard believes he has been the victim of a "whispering campaign" by former colleagues with a grudge against the party leadership, it was claimed yesterday.

A senior ally of the beleaguered peer, accused of "sexually inappropriate behaviour" by female Lib Dems, says the former chief executive could have "overstepped the mark" in some of his dealings with female party members. "There are people who have a history of feuding with Chris Rennard [holding] a very spiteful vendetta against him in a very personal way," he told The Independent on Sunday.

"They must have thought all their Christmases had come at once when Channel 4 did that programme [about the allegations]. But the idea of him as a 'predatory sex pest' is laughable."

The continuing row over the allegations against the former chief executive threatened to overshadow the party's performance in the Eastleigh by-election last week. The victory, ahead of Ukip and the Conservatives, came after more than a week of escalating pressure over the claims against Lord Rennard, who stepped down in 2009. Lord Rennard has strongly denied suggestions that he sexually harassed anyone.

Nick Clegg has been widely criticised for his handling of the allegations when they first emerged early in his time as Lib Dem leader, and during the week since they became public. The party is now conducting two inquiries – into the specific complaints against Lord Rennard, and into how they have been handled in the past.

But, despite complaints that the Lib Dems were the victims of "sensationalised" reporting in the run-up to the by-election, the affair has opened up fresh rifts from the grass roots of the party upwards. Yesterday, a number of Lib Dem activists demanded full disclosure over the investigation into the allegations.

But several others rallied around Lord Rennard – credited for developing the style of "pavement politics" that has won a series of election victories – and claimed that if there was impropriety, the complainants should have handled the situation better.

"So a man put his hand on a woman's knee? Big deal," said Janet Blowers O'Neill, a town councillor in East Anglia. "Anyone who is in politics has to deal with far worse things than that, be they man or woman.

"Women have been dealing with men who make sexual advances since the whole game began. You say 'sorry not interested'. If the man doesn't let it drop then it is a problem, but a man putting his hand on my knee after a session in the bar is hardly going to get me that upset."

Elizabeth Jewkes, founder member of Women Liberal Democrats, said: "I have met Chris Rennard on numerous occasions over the years, yet I have never experienced any of his alleged behaviour and, more importantly, as a woman who has spent years mentoring other women and encouraging them to stand for Parliament, I have never even heard the slightest rumour of these allegations."

Dorset councillor Susan Jefferies said: "I believe that any person tough enough to want to enter Parliament should be able to cope with the sort of behaviour described."

Jackie Pearcey, Lib Dem candidate for Bolton West in 2010, said: "There are questions which I want the party's inquiries to address, specifically in terms of potential abuse of power and whether people's careers were damaged as a result. However, given that at the time the allegations were anonymous and non-specific, it's hard to know what the party could have done other than, once it was clear that there was a pattern to the allegations, have a word and quietly take an appropriate opportunity to move him out of that position.

"Both in the public and private sector I oppose the notion of automatically sacking anybody on the basis of anonymous complaints. Among the clamour from the other parties in this, I have not heard what their processes and procedures are in such an eventuality and find it hard to believe that no such incidents occur in those parties."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable