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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Contracts / Sales Administrator

£19500 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Knowledge of and ability to use...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Engineer - Powered Access

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They pride themselves that they...

Recruitment Genius: Pharmacy Branch Manager

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This pharmacy group are looking...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence