With Nick Clegg’s failure to take action against Lord Rennard plastered across the papers today, the link with another ‘sex case’ featuring even more sickening allegations against a national Lib Dem politician has gone unremarked in the mainstream media.
Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock — who is also a councillor in the city — is currently subject to a private prosecution brought by a registered vulnerable adult who claims he sexually assaulted her. While the party at least published a summary of their internal report into Rennard yesterday, Liberal Democrat-run Portsmouth City Council are currently sitting on their QC-authored investigation into Mike Hancock — and have gone to the High Court to prevent it being used in the civil case.
With his office accused of ignoring letters from the complainant’s solicitors sent in early 2011, in March 2013 Nick Clegg told LBC that he had dispatched a senior MP to investigate, before “temporarily withdrawing” the whip from Hancock three months later:
“My chief whip has gone down to Portsmouth, has spoken to Mike Hancock’s solicitors, has written to the complainant’s solicitors offering to meet them, I hope they will do that. So I hope you won’t imply in any way that we’re not acting very, very thoroughly and quickly in response to what of course are serious allegations which are also very vigorously denied by Mike Hancock.”
The stage is set for two key confrontations next week: Portsmouth Council will debate the case on Tuesday and the High Court will rule on the report on Friday.
After Rennard, any further evidence of inaction in such a case will be utterly toxic for Nick Clegg.
With the Liberal Democrats taking no action against Lord Rennard over ‘sex pest’ claims from multiple activists, Nick Clegg has attempted to appease incensed female party figures by stating that the disgraced peer will have no role in the election campaign. No role other than, errr, writing the manifesto.
As a member of the party’s Federal Policy Committee, Rennard sits alongside Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and others to write policy papers for Lib Dem conference — in addition to the manifesto itself:
“The Federal Policy Committee is also responsible for writing the General Election Manifesto, in consultation with the Parliamentary Party, based on the agreed policies of the party but updating them where necessary.”
Clegg’s response is redolent of his initial botched attempt to put a lid on the scandal – which saw the deputy prime minister’s version of events unravel live on radio.
Let’s see how long he manages to stay on the Committee.
A ‘call for evidence’ for Liberal Democrats to submit allegations of sexual harassment against Lord Rennard gives them less than one week to to do so. With a police probe dropped on 26 September, an internal inquiry into the peer is being conducted by QC Alastair Webster.
Chief executive Tim Gordon included an appeal for information in his regular email to members at the weekend — but the closing date for submissions, which must be in writing, is this Friday:
“Anyone who may have relevant evidence, against or in support of Lord Rennard or who wishes to make a statement should contact Alistair Webster at firstname.lastname@example.org. All statements should be made in writing and sent to Alistair Webster by 22nd November”
The call comes after just 22% of members told Lib Dem Voice that top brass had communicated their first probe into sexual harassment ‘effectively’. The report by Helena Morrissey looked at “processes and culture” within the party but was blocked from examining specific allegations against Rennard while the police’s investigation was ongoing:
In contrast, Morrissey made no less than three open calls (two here) for evidence on the popular party blog.
This doesn’t look great for those claiming ‘cover up’.
The Liberal Democrats are to change their party constitution in an attempt to draw a line under a sexual harassment scandal which has rocked the party. After an internal report criticised Nick Clegg and equalities minister Jo Swinson for their handling of ‘sex pest’ allegations against Lord Rennard, the following clause will be voted in by members at party conference in September:
“As a Member of the Liberal Democrats, you must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.”
Oddly enough, the amendments don’t mention anything about covering up the scandal and lying about it on the radio.
Nick Clegg’s version of events on the harassment allegations against Lord Rennard is unravelling at an alarming rate. The deputy prime minister had previously claimed that his office were informed of “general concerns” regarding the party’s chief executive in 2008.
But with a former Lib Dem MP revealing she told the deputy prime minister about Rennard’s behaviour when he became party leader in 2007, Clegg was forced to defend himself on a radio phone in this morning.
His poor attempt to account for this gap is already being likened to Richard Nixon:
“I can only tell you the truth as I can recollect it now”
And it got worse, with caller “Cathy from Dulwich” turned out to be, errr, Cathy Newman from Channel 4 News, who seized on his admission that Rennard didn’t simply resign as chief executive for “health and family reasons” as claimed at the time. LBC producers didn’t seem to be impressed, however, and cut her off before she could follow up.
If it looks like a cover up and smells like a cover up …