Nick Clegg’s head is spinning, apparently, now that quite so many media outlets are involved in pursuing the allegations about Lord Rennard. That’s what he told ‘self-appointed detective’ Cathy Newman when she managed to get through to his LBC phone-in this morning. Perhaps it was this dizzy sensation of his party being embroiled in a scandal that led the Lib Dem leader to change his tune rather on the issue of why Rennard left. He said:
‘Of course these things were in the background but his health was the immediate reason why he stepped down.’
Later, he added:
‘Of course the issues of his inappropriate behaviour were in the background, of course they were.’
Previously Clegg had only referred to health reasons as the catalyst for Rennard’s departure. The Lib Dem leader also provided some interesting detail on the conversation that Danny Alexander had with Rennard in 2008 when the ‘indirect and non-specific allegations’ surfaced:
‘There was this sort of general concern. He meets Rennard, says, you know, “we’ve been told there are these general concerns, they are totally unacceptable. If you’re doing this kind of thing you must stop now.” He vociferously denied it all.’
That’s interesting, because as our story alleges this morning, Rennard is alleged to have not stopped at that point: it is claimed he was still causing concern by being tactile with a woman who had been drinking heavily at a Lib Dem party in 2011.
There was one other interesting thing to take away from the phone-in, which managed to touch on that scandalous gravel pit in Eastleigh as well as the Lord Rennard row. Clegg, who to be fair didn’t huff and puff nearly as much as he might have done, received a stern scolding from one caller, who said he’d ‘waffled on’ for ten minutes without answering Nick Ferrari’s questions about the party’s response. Clegg, in sort of responding, told her that he’d already told listeners what he could, adding ‘you may not like it’. Which reminds us why voters don’t like politicians: their attitude can so often appear to be ‘I’m not going to answer your questions, but there’s nothing you can do about it’. It’s this sort of attitude, along with not trusting voters as self-appointed organs of democracy, that leads to the rise of protest parties like UKIP in this country, or the success of Beppe Grillo in Italy. Daniel Hannan has a brilliant piece on what politicians need to do to remedy this in today’s Telegraph: Clegg might want to chew over it when his head has stopped spinning.