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Coffee House

The cowardly Lib Dems should have taken action over Chris Rennard

16 January 2014

4:14 PM

16 January 2014

4:14 PM

Alistair Webster QC has decided that the threshold for disciplining Lord Rennard for sexually inappropriate behaviour could not be met, and that the allegations could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Webster’s statement can be read on Lib Dem Voice, as can a statement from Lord Rennard. It is the stomach turning arrogance with which Rennard says he will return to the fold that makes the blood boil the most.

No apology, no contrition, just a brazen told-you-so attitude, as if nothing has happened. His legal representative, Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile, does him no favours either. Carlile has condemned the party membership for their response to Lord Rennard, and said that his friend has nothing to apologise for.

These responses are wholly at odds with Webster’s findings. The eminent QC who conducted the independent enquiry into Rennard found that ‘the evidence suggest that Lord Rennard’s behaviour has caused distress to a number of women,’ and described the evidence given by witnesses as ‘broadly credible’. It seems utterly untenable to me that Rennard will regain the party whip in the Lords next week, but that, currently, is what will happen.

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You wouldn’t know that from how Rennard has responded, but at no point does Webster totally clear him. It was found ‘that there is a less thant 50 per cent chance that a charge against Lord Rennard could be proved to the requisite standard’. This standard is an unusually high threshold, and are just down to the Lib Dems own internal workings. They would not have to have been met had Rennard still been employed by the party, and operating under normal employment law.

Rennard was a hugely powerful figure in the Lib Dems, and it seems nobody was properly prepared to challenge his behaviour. The allegations of Alison Goldsworthy, Alison Smith, and Bridget Harris were not taken seriously enough at the start, which meant that in the end it was left to Cathy Newman at Channel 4 to fully expose what had happened.

No organisation can guarantee the behaviour of its members, especially not those at the top of the hierarchy. That is why systems must be put in place to protect people if things go wrong. By the Lib Dems’ own admission this was not the case. To compound the issue, despite there now being a semblance of a procedure in place, the party has wimped out of taking any action.

Make no mistake about it, by not taking any action against their former chief executive the Lib Dems have been cowardly, and risk declaring themselves a ‘no go zone’ for women.

They have, sadly, said to women that even if we believe what you say our systems will give the benefit of the doubt to those that you accuse. It is this that has caused such consternation amongst members, and a growing call for the rules to change to more adequately protect those that make such serious allegation.

Since the verdict has come out many party members, both male and female have contacted me indicating how let down they feel. Lots of Lib Dem men are utterly outraged that female colleagues appear to have been so failed, and that there seems to be so few options for recompense.

You can appoint a many pastoral care officers as you want, but if you don’t discipline people when credible allegations are made it doesn’t hold much water. The Lib Dems have a lot of work to do to convince women that this is a party they can be part of.

Charlotte Henry is a freelance journalist and Liberal Democrat activist

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