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.


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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Show comments
  • Doggie Roussel

    Let’s hope this runs and runs…. every day it’s in the media, the LibDems lose another 10,000 votes…. Just keep the revolting Rennard and the simpering Clegg in the limeliight and UKIP will continue to flourish…

  • ButcombeMan

    What this episode shows beyond any doubt is that Clegg lacks leadership ability OR as someone else suggests Reynard has something rather nasty, on Clegg, which stops Clegg acting like a leader.

    Since Clegg has in the past mlldy boasted of his own swordsmanship, the second suggestion may be quite likely. The corridors of the EU are full of attractive sexual prospects for those inclined not to keep it in their trousers..

    Clegg should not need evidence “beyond reasonable doubt” to deal with this, no one has been talking about criminal prosecution.

    If any woman or group of takes action against Reynard for alarm & distress, , the civil standard of proof would surely apply?

  • John_Page

    What a huge fuss these would be rulers of our lives made about rather little, turning out to be wimpy women.

  • Graham Barker

    All Clegg has to do for a fig leaf is announce that whatever the Webster conclusions, confidence in Rennard is so low that he is better off out of the party than in it. Clegg’s inability to take even that minimal action against someone who is a clear health and safety risk to women confirms him as shallow, weak and despicable.

  • Andrew Kennedy

    On the one hand, a stream of LibDem women prepared to speak publicly on this issue is not considered enough evidence to convince a jury, while at the same time we see a string of elderly men being prosecuted for sexual offences on the basis of witnesses describing events of up to fifty years ago. I don’t know which approach is right, but they can’t both be.

  • Regislea

    I am reminded of Sir Reginald Paget’s comment about Lord Hailsham at the time of the Profumo affair:

    “When self-indulgence has reduced a man to the shape of Lord Hailsham, sexual continence involves no more than a sense of the ridiculous.”

  • Fergus Pickering

    Any woman in the same room as Rennard should arm herself with a large pair of scissors. And then cut his balls off.

    • Doggie Roussel

      Pigs have relatively small scrotums, so I imagine that a pair of nail scissors might be sufficient to accomplish this egregious warthog’s overdue castration!

  • TonyM12001

    “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…”

    Erm, isn’t that true of any investigation with the slightest pretence of fairness? Or should the accuser’s word simply be good enough? We’ve seen this before in criminal courts, and it’s morally wrong.

    “Broadly credible” doesn’t equal “proven charge”. It simply means that there was nothing that would disprove it (say, Rennard had an iron cast alibi).

  • judyk113

    There is another route to force the Liberal Democrat Party to take action. It is no doubt a registered Charity.

    Charity status is governed by very demanding rules. If a charity is in breach of them, it can lose its charitable status, or be forced to change its rules and practices as a condition of retaining charitable status.

    The rules include an obligation on the Trustees to ensure that the charity has and effectively delivers proper safeguarding to ensure that no-one using the charity’s provisions, including meetings, training etc is put at risk of inappropriate or abusive behaviour from the charity’s employees or volunteers. The Trustees are also responsible for historical events.

    Here are the guidelines charities are expected to deliver on re safeguarding:

    Vicarious liability of trustees:

    Safeguarding: disclosure & barring

    The most significant re Rennard: reporting serious incidents:

    As you’ll see from the link, it includes:

    the charity having no policy to safeguard its vulnerable beneficiaries

    suspicions, allegations and incidents of abuse or mistreatment of vulnerable beneficiaries

    When to report an incident

    If a serious incident has happened, or you have reasonable grounds to suspect a serious incident, you should report it to us as soon as possible.

    – See more at:

    How to report a serious incident

    The best way to contact us is by email:

    I urge all the women who feel they have been failed by the LibDems in response to their complaints re Rennard to report their experience to the Charity Commission. Forward the Webster report too.

    Likewise, I urge anyone who now does not feel that the LibDem Party is ensuring they are safeguarded from abuse, or that someone else they think is vulnerable to abuse from anyone being supported in working as part of the LibDem organisation, whether as a volunteer or paid employees to make a formal complaint, explaining why you think the LibDems are not ensuring your safety in your involvement in LibDem activities.

    Here is an explanation from the Charity Commission of what you can complain about and how to do it.

    Please do spread knowledge of this amongst anyone who feels that the LibDems are not doing enough about Chris Rennard– and about Mike Hancock.

    Bear in mind that, unlike the LibDems, the Charity Commission standard of proof is “on the balance of probabilities”. And the burden of proof is on the charity, and not on the complainant to show how they deliver and how they have fully safeguarded the people who use LibDem facilities, are LibDem activists etc.

    Don’t be put off by people who will try to tell you there is no point. Keep copies of anything you send the Charity Commission.

  • David Booth.

    Has there ever been such a pusillanimous politician as Nick Clegg? He goes on the radio bleating that Rennard (drop The Lord crap) will have no further involvement with the LibDims and he should also apologise to the women he letched over. The result after the Great Clegg had spoken- zilch!
    Typical LibDims all inclusive and compassionate on the surface whilst underneath they are a squalid snake pit of an organization.
    Perhaps Nick Clegg should contact the leader of the LibDims to see if anything can be done??
    Clegg, Rennard, and the LibDims should hang their collective heads in shame.

  • jaydkay

    “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”.

    Nearly strong words but I bet there will be very little action. They won’t leave the party for where else can middle class lefties go? And as with all lefties the cause, (do let me know if anyone ever finds out what the LibDems stand for), is greater than any sin committed by it’s leaders.

    • David Booth.

      “….what do the LibDims stand for?” Well they stand for err? err? err?
      Can I ring a friend?
      My friend says that the LibDims stand for something called “Opportunistic Power”

  • Frank

    Presumably one, or more, of these ladies can sue the party? They should. The lib-dems really do seem to specialise in inadequate males, eg David Laws, Mike Hancock, Chris Huhne, etc.

    • post_x_it

      Oaten! Mark Oaten! Remember him? Lembit was ok, shame he was dumped by his cheeky girl. Cyril Smith of course, there’s a proper Lib Dem for you. No contest.

      • David Booth.

        Not forgetting “Pants Down Paddy” Ashdown, Jeremy Thorpe was up on an attempted murder charge whilst leading the Liberal Party before they spawned the LibDims.
        Simon Hughes “The Straight Choice” in that Bermondsey By-Election against Peter Tatchell (one wonders what he was hinting at?)
        Any more?

        • me

          Dont forget Cyril Smith as well, not just a nasty party…….

          • David Booth.

            How could one “overlook” the likes of Cyril Smith?
            When you think about it the LibDims are a veritable magnet for odds and sods!

          • post_x_it

            I did mention him above.
            And to David Booth – I might be able to think of more, but I don’t want to consider the possibility that I might be able to think of more if I tried.

            • David Booth.

              We must all beware of images that get into our mind that we just can’t get rid of and a lot of them emanate from the snake pit that is LibDim politics!
              Apologies if I tread on your toes re the comment about Cyril Smith but he was a big chap and there was a lot of him to go around.

  • Perpetually Astonished

    I used to like to quite like certain aspects of the Lib Dem Party, but they do have a tendency to show themselves to be among the nastiest of our nasty political class. I really do hope they disappear after the next election as they have proven themselves unworthy of national politics.

    • Perpetually Astonished

      . . or indeed local politics where they are, of course, notorious for their nastiness.

  • lucyandpk

    Lib dems area no go area for 92% of the population.

    • Louise McCudden

      Ha, usually stats like that are hyperbole but in this case it’s literally accurate…

  • James Strong

    Please tell us, Ms. Henry, what standard of proof you regard as appropriate.
    Then please confirm that you are happy for the same standard to be applied in all cases, including in any allegations against you, your friends, political allies or indeed anyone else at all.
    Thank you.

    • HookesLaw

      This is the problem the LDs gave themselves with their internal enquiry by one person. On face value the threshold sat for action seems to be unreasonably high.
      But equally if the woman in question has not gone to the police (what is the history of these accusations?) then there seems to be no evidence in the public domain for any of us to judge.

      The word that sticks out a mile over this is though ‘hypocrisy’. The sanctimonious LDs would be the first to criticise others if they had behaved this way.

      • David Kay

        there might be no evidence at all that Lord Pervy acted [with] sexually inappropriate behaviour but once he apologises, thats called a confession which means he then he gets arrested and charged for being a mucky bugger and the civil claims follow.

        As any half decent lawyer will tell you (if youre guilty) if you have to say anything, say nothing

        the vast majority of crimes (over 80%) are solved by confessions

      • TonyM12001

        It is a high standard, but better that than a standard lower than the legal one, which could expose you to civil actions from people you found guilty but the courts didn’t.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Yes, it’s really unfortunate that this coalition condones such scurrilous behavior. Fortunately, they’re set to be removed, and these outrages will be part of the grounds for their removal.

    • Duke_Bouvier

      This was not a criminal court. It wasn’t even an employment law issue.

      What standard should apply for a private association to decide that one of its members had bought it into disrepute and should be censured, suspended or expelled? Vote of the executive perhaps appealenon-executive body was.

      How very LibDem to write such stupid self-regarding rules for themselves.

      • Fergus Pickering

        But horrible fat gropers and dirty old men flourish everywhere. In particular among the Liberal democrats. What makes them so particularly prone tom this sort of thing? This is a response to Regislea’s excellent post.


    Does anyone know if all the women distressed, at the very least, by Rennard were white? My guess is if there had been the smallest question of there being any sort of racial element to this case, Cleggy wouldn’t be getting so many splinters in his backside, nor would he even dare to sit on the fence in the way he does today.
    He spent the best part of 10 minutes this morning on LBC squirming about “due process”, but that’s the Left all over. T.S. Eliot spoke a long time ago of the Left trying to create a system so perfect that nobody actually had to be good. Well, if being party leader doesn’t require him to exercise any actual judgement, then the party has no need of a leader.
    The fish rots from the head down.

    • Louise McCudden

      Generally sexual crimes and violence against black and Asian women get lower rates of conviction, are more likely to be disbelieved, get lower sentences if they ever do get a conviction etc.

  • Bert

    Looks like a master baker

    • Airey Belvoir

      He is definitely channelling Benny Hill in that pic.

    • David Booth.

      “Master Baker” what are you hinting at? (Hint, say it quickly)