Lord Rennard has exposed the Lib Dem attitude to women

Harman claimed Rennard’s accusers were being ‘hung out to dry’

Share

Nick Clegg had to talk about it on the Today show. Tim Farron tried to defuse it on evening news programmes. The man himself, Lord Rennard, issued a long statement as his party suspended him and began fresh disciplinary proceedings.

The Liberal Democrats are becoming more and more embattled in an unseemly row about the alleged behaviour of their former chief executive, and it’s hard not to wonder what the hell is going on at the highest level of the party.

Whether outside observers feel sorry for them is another matter. This is the modern world, and most organisations have worked out that they need to have robust procedures in place to deal with allegations of sexual harassment.

Rennard denies that he’s done anything wrong, even though an inquiry concluded last week that he had caused “distress” to several women. The Deputy Prime Minister was clear that the peer had to offer an apology before he could resume his seat, and Rennard’s response led to his losing the party whip.

At one level, the Lib Dems have got into this mess because they judged the Rennard case according to the standard of proof required in a criminal case rather than a disciplinary hearing. Their response to the findings last week looked like a classic fudge, in which senior members of the party seemed to be trying not to offend either side. That was never going to satisfy anyone.

This is not the 1980s, when anyone who complained about sexual harassment at work was likely to be accused of making trouble or not being able to take a joke. These days, it’s usual for such accusations to be investigated quickly, and the party president, Farron, has joined Clegg in admitting it was much too slow to respond to allegations. What’s happening now is a direct consequence of a policy of sitting tight and hoping the whole business would just go away.

But the real reason this affair is so damaging is the public perception that it speaks volumes about the Lib Dems and gender. Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, claimed Rennard’s accusers were being “hung out to dry”, an accusation that has all the more force because senior Labour women don’t have female counterparts on the Lib Dem benches.

The party’s public faces – Clegg, Farron, Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Alistair Carmichael, Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes, Paddy Ashdown – are all male. Clegg’s bigger problem, bigger even than the gasp-making Rennard row, is how to persuade voters that the party isn’t an old-fashioned men’s club which merely pays lip service to equality.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz