Nick Clegg has come back from Spain to admit that he did know about the allegations about Lord Rennard’s behaviour towards women – and, for good measure, has told us all that so did Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In a statement, he has this to say:
‘I am angry and outraged at the suggestion that I would not have acted if these allegations had been put to me. Indeed, when indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them. My chief of staff at the time, Danny Alexander, put these concerns to Chris Rennard and warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable. Chris Rennard categorically denied that he had behaved inappropriately and he continues to do so. He subsequently resigned as chief executive on health grounds.’
Why drag his fellow Cabinet member into this by naming him? Clegg needed only have said that Rennard was formally confronted, and denied the allegations (as he does now). And we are to believe that it was Danny Alexander who took these denials at face value, rather than order an investigation?
The Telegraph has already disclosed that it put allegations to Nick Clegg’s office in 2010 and was rebuffed by his then chief of staff, Jonny Oates:
‘On April 30, 2010, Mr Oates [said] it was “untrue to state that Mr Clegg was made aware of the incidents you allege” and confirming that Mr Clegg had not ordered any investigation into Lord Rennard. Mr Oates’s reply also described the reports of Lord Rennard’s behaviour as “unproven claims” and “serious allegations”.’
So Mr Oates’s denial already looks pretty Jesuitical: Clegg now admits that he did know of allegations – maybe not the specific ones that the Telegraph put to him. And while he did not order a formal investigation, he did dispatch his top aide to say that such behaviour “was” – rather than the conditional ‘would be’ – unacceptable.
All told, this is an odd form of crisis management. The standard (and correct) response is to find out the whole truth and admit it all – rather than drip-feed details to an already-salivating media. And opposition.
Here’s Labour’s response (something tells me we won’t get one from the Tories):
‘After days of total denials – some only hours ago from LibDem MPs Vince Cable and Jeremy Brown – Nick Clegg has now been forced to admit that he did know of what he calls ‘indirect concerns’ about Lord Rennard in his role Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrat. Clegg’s statement raises more questions than it answers about his judgement and the willingness of the Lib Dems as a party to properly investigate such serious allegations at the time they were made. At issue is not just a series of serious allegations from a number of women, but how the Liberal Democrat Party responded to those allegations.Only with a fully independent investigation can the public have confidence that the truth will prevail and lessons learned for the future.’
Labour is, of course, following our own James Forsyth in recommending a full inquiry. All of this gives the Rennard imbroglio the air of a fast-spreading scandal. And there is nothing that Fleet St likes more.