If Lib Dems lose Eastleigh, their inept handling of Lord Rennard scandal will be blamed

 

Share
Related Topics

Nick Clegg regards his mission as taking the Liberal Democrats from being a party of opposition which can hoover up protest votes to one that is a serious partner in government.

The irony about the firestorm now engulfing Britain’s third party is that even Conservative cabinet ministers admit privately the Lib Dems have grown up since joining them in coalition. Mr Clegg’s party has sometimes been more disciplined than the Tories in swallowing the harsh medicine needed to reduce the deficit. After a difficult start in 2010, when the Deputy Prime Minister tried to do too much and was swamped, he has learnt to delegate and now has a much more professional operation.

Yet the leadership’s handling of the allegations that Lord Rennard, the former Lib Dem chief executive, sexually harassed female party activists, has looked more like amateur hour.

It is true that the claims, strongly contested by Lord Rennard, date back to the days when the Lib Dems did not expect to be in power and were rarely under the media microscope –much to their frustration at the time. But the party is judged by different standards now that it is in power, and the leadership seems to have been remarkably slow to realise this.

As one senior Lib Dem put it: “We might have got away with it five years ago when no one took us seriously as a party of government. It is as if we somehow forgot how much we have moved on since then.”

It is probably more cock-up than conspiracy of silence. “This is not Watergate but we did not anticipate the Watergate question – whether it was all covered up,” one Lib Dem insider said.

The original allegations may have been magnified by Tory-supporting newspapers, who often take out their frustration at David Cameron’s failure to win an overall majority in 2010 by kicking the Lib Dems. But that made it all the more important for Mr Clegg’s party to agree a line and stick to it. He unwittingly played into his critics’ hands by appearing to brand journalists looking into the claims as “self-appointed detectives”. Unwise, and he had to retreat.

A former senior Lib Dem official says: “I can hardly believe how badly it has been handled. Either Nick has been badly advised, or he hasn’t listened to advice. He is making things worse by changing his tune. He is looking irritated and cross.”

Allies of the  leader insist that he cannot be expected to have a photographic memory of every conversation he had five years ago. One said: “We were aware there was a problem. The women involved did not want it to become public. They just wanted it to stop. We made sure it did.”

However, Team Clegg seemed slow to grasp that the story could move easily from being one about Lord Rennard to one about his leadership. It did. Like Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg is not loved by everyone in his party. Speculation is rife at Westminster that the controversy is being fuelled by enemies within who may be stirring the pot.

Senior party figures have struggled to sing from the same hymn sheet. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, who is seen as a potential future leader, raised eyebrows by admitting the party had “screwed this up”. It was not the official line.

The timing of the revelations are dangerous for Mr Clegg. If the Lib Dems fail to win today’s Eastleigh by-election, his handling of the affair will be blamed, however  unfairly. The stakes are much higher than they were a week ago.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower