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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links