Lord Rennard, the most senior Liberal Democrat embroiled in the expenses row, will step down in the autumn for what he said yesterday were health and family reasons. The departure of their chief executive saves the Liberal Democrats a potentially embarrassing row over the £40,000 he claimed for a second home.
Lord Rennard owned a flat less than two miles from the House of Lords and from his office in the party's Westminster headquarters. He is thought to have spent the £40,000 on a holiday house in Eastbourne.
The size of his claim sat uneasily alongside the high-profile campaign to clean up Parliament conducted by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats have come through the expenses row with fewer embarrassing revelations than the main parties, although one of their MPs, Andrew George, came under fire for claiming expenses on a London flat used by his daughter.
And the party's millionaire home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, has been ridiculed for claiming for bus tickets, HobNob biscuits and a £119 trouser press.
One outsider said that if Lord Rennard had not offered to step down, he would have faced the prospect of an investigation by the Liberal Democrat chief whip and possible disciplinary action. "He jumped before he was pushed," the source said.
In a letter to party members, Lord Rennard said he had discussed the move with Mr Clegg "some time ago".
He wrote: "I want to be able to work more flexibly in future whilst of course continuing to help our party advance. I believe that I will be better able to do so without the administrative burdens of being chief executive and running the party's day to day organisation."
Lord Rennard said he wanted to have "something of a more normal life outside the Westminster bubble" with his retired wife, Ann. "This has become more important to me as I have struggled to maintain good diabetic control with the rigours of a very demanding lifestyle. This has proved to be increasingly difficult whilst carrying out the role of chief executive at HQ and around the country."
When details of Lord Rennard's expenses were first leaked, he defended them on the grounds that they had been "specifically" approved by the House of Lords authorities. "Peers are not paid any salary or pension for their work. But you are allowed to claim an allowance for a London property whilst maintaining a home outside London as in my case," he said.
Chris Rennard organised a series of successful by-election victories in the 1990s which boosted morale and support for the Liberal Democrats, helping them win 62 seats at the 2005 election, their best showing in decades. He was made a life peer in 1999, and appointed chief executive, in charge of the party's 40 full-time staff, in 2003.
Mr Clegg paid a warm tribute to Lord Rennard, crediting him with having steered the party "through some turbulent times". He said: "Without Chris's unique skills as one of the country's most astute and effective political campaigners, I doubt that the party would now have the largest number of MPs in decades."
The longest fortnight at Westminster: MPs caught in the spotlight
Michael Martin Labour MP for Glasgow North East
Offence: Tried to stop publication of expenses. Attacked pro-reform MPs.
Reply: Quit for sake of unity.
Prospects: Standing down as Speaker and MP next month.
Sir Peter Viggers Tory MP for Gosport
Offence: Claimed £1,645 for a duck house.
Reply: Acted "in accordance with the rules".
Prospects: To step down at election.
Andrew MacKay Tory MP for Bracknell
Offence: Claimed for second home, but appears not to have a main home.
Prospects: Resigned as aide to David Cameron. Facing constituents today.
Douglas Hogg Tory MP for Sleaford & N Hykeham
Offence: Claimed £2,000 to clean out moat.
Reply: Said he acted within the rules, but repaying money.
Prospects: Won't run for re-election.
Shahid Malik Labour MP for Dewsbury
Offence: Paying reduced rent.
Reply: Looks forward to having his name cleared.
Prospects: Stepped down as Home Office minister. Hopes to get job back.
David Chaytor Labour MP for Bury North
Offence: Claimed £13,000 on "phantom" mortgage.
Reply: Agreed to repay money.
Prospects: Under investigation. Suspended from parliamentary party.
Elliot Morley Labour MP for Scunthorpe
Offence: Claimed £16,000 on "phantom" mortgage.
Reply: Repaying money.
Prospects: Stood down as chair of select committee. Suspended.
Ben Chapman Labour MP for Wirral South
Offence: Claimed for part of a mortgage he had already paid off.
Reply: Said fees office approved.
Prospects: Chief whip investigating. Will stand down at next election.
Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat peer
Offence: Claimed £40,000 when owned flat near Westminster
Reply: Claims it was approved
Prospects: Stepping down as party's chief executive in autumn
Anthony Steen Tory MP for Totnes
Offence: Claimed more than £80,000 over four years on mansion.
Reply: "I don't what the fuss is about."
Prospects: Not standing again. Faces losing whip if protests continue.
Hazel Blears Labour MP for Salford
Offence: Did not pay capital gains tax when selling her London flat.
Reply: Paid back £13,332 to taxman.
Prospects: Behaviour described by Brown as "totally unacceptable".
Jacqui Smith Labour MP for Redditch
Offence: Claimed two adult movies, watched by her husband.
Reply: Apologised. Repaid money.
Prospects: At risk of demotion or move at the next reshuffle.
Tony McNulty Labour MP for Harrow East
Offence: Claimed about £60,000 on home where parents lived.
Reply: Rules not broken as did work at the property.
Prospects: May face police probe.
Margaret Moran Labour MP for Luton South
Offence: Claimed £22,500 to fix dry rot on home miles from constituency.
Reply: Initially defensive but now repaying the money.
Prospects: Labour investigating her.
Phil Hope Labour MP for Corby and East Northants
Offence: Claimed second homes allowance to kit out London flat.
Reply: Repaying £41,709.
Prospects: Set to lose marginal seat.
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