LDV Members' Survey – MPs' expenses (1): what you said about Chris Rennard

by Stephen Tall on May 21, 2009

On Tuesday evening, LDV emailed those Lib Dem party members signed-up to our private discussion forum inviting them to take part in a survey focusing on MPs’ expenses. Many thanks to the 220 of you who have so far completed it; we’ll be publishing the results on LDV over the next few days. You can catch up on the results of all our past exclusive LDV members’ surveys by clicking here.

First up, we’re going to look at what you said about the expenses stories concerning Lord (Chris) Rennard, the party’s chief executive. Here’s what we asked: Though not an MP, the party’s chief executive Lord (Chris) Rennard has faced criticism for claiming a House of Lords member’s allowance of £41,678 having designated his flat in Eastbourne as his main residence and his London house as his second home. Lord Rennard has stated that all his claims have been specifically approved by the House of Lords authorities. How do you think the party should respond to this?

And here’s what you told us:

>> 22% – The party’s Federal Executive should issue clear guidelines to all MPs/peers for the future, but no further action should be taken against Lord Rennard unless there is evidence he broke Parliamentary rules.

>> 31% – Ask Lord Rennard immediately to clarify where his main residence is, and – if it is not Eastbourne – he should apologise and repay the sum claimed.

>> 24% – Ask Lord Rennard immediately to clarify where his main residence is, and – if it is not Eastbourne – he should apologise, repay the sum claimed and be suspended and/or have the whip withdrawn.

>> 18% – Immediately suspend Lord Rennard from his post as chief executive pending a report from an independent committee appointed by the party’s Federal Executive on whether he broke the rules.

A split result, though the most popular response would see Lord Rennard – if his main residence is shown not to be in Eastbourne – forced to apologise and pay back the money mistakenly claimed, drawing a line under the episode. However, that would not satisfy 24% of you, who think that Lord Rennard should also be suspended or have the whip withdrawn in such circumstances.

Almost one-fifth of you, 18%, think the party’s federal executive should have taken the decision to suspend Lord Rennard pending a proper investigation to determine if he broke the rules. While 22% adopt a more lenient stance, believing that if, as Lord Rennard states, his claims were specifically approved by the Lords authorities then it would be better simply for the federal executive to make sure clear guidelines are in place for the future.

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Gaming the system by fibbing about his main home is pretty serious. But doesn’t the allegation also continue that Lord Rennard goes to the Lords and clocks in every day before going to his day job? Simply to claim all those expenses for his main home? Isn’t that how it goes?

by Chris Paul on May 21, 2009 at 9:21 am. Reply #

I’m quite stunned that the majority of LDV readers want to make an exception to due process just because it’s Lawd Rennard.

Suspend him (on full pay, natch), investigate, reinstate him if he’s innocent. That’s what happens in the real world to people who are alleged to have broken the rules in such a serious manner.

That we, as a party, don’t seem to have the will to do this makes me feel that we’re looking after our own while condemning the others, and I thought we were better than that.

by Jennie on May 21, 2009 at 10:36 am. Reply #

That’s what happens in the real world to people who are alleged to have broken the rules in such a serious manner.

But this is more ‘grey’ area, Jennie. If he checked with the Lords authorities, and his expenses were specifically approved, then he didn’t break any rules – if my bosses signed-off my expenses submitted in good faith, then demanded them back a few years later I’d have a good case at tribunal.

The question is more of an ethical one – even if it was legal, above-board etc, is it something one of our Parliamentarians should do?

by Stephen Tall on May 21, 2009 at 10:47 am. Reply #

I’m with Chris Paul and Jennie,

Let’s consider Tory “Lord X”. Lord X spends his week living in Putney and working full-time in a political consultancy in St James’s. However, Lord X has designated his weekend home in Deal as his main address and claims substantial sums in expenses against it. Furthermore, Lord X goes via the Lords every morning, signs in for his daily allowance and then proceeds to his office.

If it was proven that Lord X only visits Deal at weekends and signs-in to the Lords despite then carrying out a full-time paid job elsewhere, how would Liberal Democrats react? For Tory Lord X, of course, read Lib Dem Lord R and carry-across your reaction.

This is the real test of how we as a Party are going to deal with sleaze. We have been well-served by the probity of our MPs and gained credit for it. If – if – a Peer is letting the party down, they must be disciplined (more than just handing money back) and be seen to be disciplined – NO MATTER who they are.

by David on May 21, 2009 at 11:04 am. Reply #

Sadly I don’t think Lord R is the only LD peer in this category. All the party’s have been pretty silent on the Lords – it is time that our party and others spoke up.

by tim leunig on May 21, 2009 at 11:25 am. Reply #

Like Jenny, I thought the LibDems were better than that. I am not a party member, just a voter.

I have always dismissed the Labour and Tory claim that LibDemmers will point in any direction that suits them – well prove it is not true by dealing with Rennard in the way you criticise Brown for not doing. (Bad grammar, I know)

by IanH on May 21, 2009 at 11:28 am. Reply #

For me, it’s not about an exception to due process, it’s a recognition of a culture shift in Westminster. This sort of behaviour was widespread and formally approved by the group who were monitoring expenses (much like people who stretch the truth on their tax returns) and now we’re putting a stop to it by tightening the rules. I’m not inclined to think that further punishment of everybody involved is necessary if they correct the matter promptly – in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I’m willing to consider these claims to be a mistake made in haste rather than deliberate fraud.

So, where somebody promptly corrects the mistake and returns any money claimed in error, I see no particular need to go further. I wouldn’t be bothered by a full investigation, but I’m not going to push for it. This has got nothing to do with his party affiliation or seniority, it’s the same thing I think about all the members of both houses. I am interested in reforming the rules and ensuring this stops here, not in retribution.

by Andrew Suffield on May 21, 2009 at 11:57 am. Reply #

Agreed, it seems that we like all the other parties seem to prefer political expediency to brush over our own misdemeanours.

Of course, none of us know what took place at FE on Monday and I suspect that members of the FE are under no obligation to tell us. The only recourse would be to ask a question of the FE report at conference – the bit that is usually attended by about 5 people (including me!). However, ill attended as those sessions are it wouldn’t take an especially clever person to put together some weasel words that fail to answer any question asked.

I have to say that I have concerns around our corporate governance as to exactly our Chief Exec is really accountable to; that is of course a separate matter from his status as a Lord and his taking of the Lib Dem whip, but still an important one.

by Jo Christie-Smith on May 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm. Reply #

The trouble is that some (most, even) of the population are interested in retribution. They will judge us according to that standard.

I wonder what we’d find if we looked at how income brackets are distributed across those four different statements’ respondents?

by Alix Mortimer on May 21, 2009 at 12:02 pm. Reply #

“I suspect that members of the FE are under no obligation to tell us”

Really?? I’m sure they are – why do we bother electing half of them otherwise?

by Alix Mortimer on May 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm. Reply #

I am told that there will be an email to all members tomorrow as well as a piece in the LDN about the FE meeting. I don’t expect any particularly earth shattering but I will withold comment until I have read the email.

Did anyone see the Newsnight piece last night about Lord Rennard which we are told was broadcast? I can do iPlayer until this evening.

by Paul Walter on May 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm. Reply #

Yeah – no new info. The “breaking news coverage” referred to by Mark littlewood on the Liberal Vision blog turned out to be twenty seconds of Jonathan Crick saying that there had been a call for Lord R to explain last week’s allegations in the NotW, and the call in question had been from… Mark Littlewood. Who then, of course, wrote a post about the “breaking news coverage” coming up on Newsnight. Oh, it’s all just so baffling…

by Alix Mortimer on May 21, 2009 at 12:34 pm. Reply #

Sorry, Michael Crick. I must have been thinking of Jonathan Creek. Who, I might add, would have been way more entertaining:

“So the question is, how did Lord Rennard manage to appear at a party in London while at the same time living in his main residence in Eastbourne? We all thought there had to be some supernatural explanation. But actually it was all mind-bogglingly simple…”

by Alix Mortimer on May 21, 2009 at 12:45 pm. Reply #

Alix – that’s not quite true. Crick was the one who raised Rennard’s expenses as part of a latest sleaze update. They are in the public domain regardless of Mark Littlewood’s activities.

Unless Chris can prove to the satisfaction of the media that Eastbourne is his main residence this isn’t (nor should it) going to go away I’m afraid.

by Dan on May 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm. Reply #

Is it me, but do the timings on the past two comments indicate that I’m an hour behind you all – it’s 12.15 here in central London… And if my e-mail is to be believed, something unexpected has just happened…

by Mark Valladares on May 21, 2009 at 1:02 pm. Reply #

A Chief Exec must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion – and not not just on the narrow criterion of complying with the (very inadequate) rules.

Above all this speaks to motive and attitude which connects to Jo Christie-Smith’s concerns around corporate governance which I very much share.

When I first became involved one of the first things I discovered was what I privately came to think of as ‘the headwind from Cowley Street’. If we did well it was despite and not because of the lead from the national party; it remains the case that national results lag local ones and that national support depends to an uncomfortable degree on protest and tactical votes.

There’s nothing wrong with protest votes per se but we ought by now to have a large base of principled voters.

Rennard was/is the arch tactician of the protest vote but if we want to move on we need to find a Chief Exec with a different skill-set.

by Liberal Eye on May 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm. Reply #

@Dan, that it was already in the public domain was kind of my point. There was no “new” news.

Bloody timestamp is broken again.

*tinkers*

by Alix Mortimer on May 21, 2009 at 1:10 pm. Reply #

This is all rather bemusing. I am contantly receiving requests for money to help the party, whilst others, who should know better are having a very rich time of it. The worst is that party members have not been told the truth. What is the good of having a Liberal Democrat party if we, the members, can be lied to as a matter of course?

by David Harvey on May 27, 2009 at 3:07 pm. Reply #

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