The Rennard allegations: what Lib Dem members think about how the party and press handled them

by Stephen Tall on March 30, 2013

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 650 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

55% say: party handed it badly, now doing right thing

Lord Rennard has been accused of sexual impropriety during his time as Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. He has denied all the allegations. From what you have seen or heard about the story, how well or badly do you think the Liberal Democrats handled the allegations against Lord Rennard during his time as Chief Executive once they were broadcast by Channel 4? Which of the following statements comes closest to your own view:

    28% – It has been handled badly by the party all the way through

    55% – The party’s initial response was poor, but it seems now to be doing the right thing

    14% – The party has dealt with a difficult situation as well as could be expected in the circumstances

    1% – Other

    2% – Don’t know

The allegations made against Lord (Chris) Rennard were broadcast on Thursday 21st Feb: from then until the news from the Eastleigh by-election a week later they led the headlines. It’s clear from our survey that many members are deeply critical at how the party’s response was handled; though the majority feel it eventually managed to get its house in order. In the comments, many highlighted the seeming inadequacy of the party’s processes for dealing with complaints made against the chief executive, as well as how the party’s response appeared to dribble out with subtle differences in statements each day adding fuel to the media firestorm. Here’s a sample of them:

These type of allegations are always difficult. The party has not developed appropriate responses and sanctions for this sort of abuse and we need to, swiftly.

The handling at the beginning was dire, with stories being changed and information coming out in dribs and drabs. Now the reviews are going on, I am happy that due process is taking place and I hope the media will respect that.

The internal party structures for both complaints and party discipline need to be looked at and changed. The current procedures are that of a small and inward-looking party. We need procedures that both protect and discipline party members and MP’s/Lords in the appropriate manner.

Can’t think why they didn’t point out right away that you don’t sack people on the basis of rumour and hearsay and draw relevant parallels with newspapers, other businesses etc.

I don’t have enough information to know if we handled the matter badly before it became public. Once it became public the right organisational response was made but Nick Clegg’s comments were a disaster, giving the impression he was constantly changing his story. Factually he probably wasn’t, but that’s what it seemed like and he/we should have seen that.

Lord Chris Rennard was the back-bone of the L/D Election winning campaigns for 25 years and is a trojan campaign leader. However,the absolute highest standards of propriety towards women candidates and in the gender mix is required 24/7.The Party must be seen to be effective at responding to all genuine complaints from onset and should put in place a new fast reactive way of addressing any allegation fairly to all concerned.

The only person who has handled this seriously and correctly is Tim Farron. Clegg was either badly briefed or badly wrong.

The party has a very poor record at every level of handling any sort of complaint about anything. Rennard’s skill of course made him indispensable to the party and there was even more reason to hope it would just go away.

The party needs to develop the culture and capability of responding to a crisis swiftly – not a slow response dragged out over several days through multiple interviews where different party figures give different responses.

Comments by Leader confusing and President used inappropriate language.

The party leadership seems unreasonably defensive. Sure the past mechanisms were too ad hoc and informal, but the important point is that when the allegations were made, they were in fact put to Lord R and he changed his behaviour. What is wrong with that?

It seems to me that there are a lot of (usually older) men across the country, not just in Parliament, who haven’t a clue about what the women’s movement is about, or about respecting women, so we have to continue to be alert to any sexism. Part of the problem in Parliament is not enough women MPs, but we won’t get these without actively encouraging women to become candidates, much more than we are at the moment. As a PPC shortlisting chair I am frustrated by the apparent lack of support for women candidates.

69% say: newspapers saw allegations as opportunity to attack Lib Dems

And which of the following statements comes closest to your own view of how the newspapers reported the allegations:

    24% – Mainly fairly: some may have gone over-the-top but no more than is usual when such allegations are made

    69% – Mainly unfairly: though it was a legitimate story most newspapers saw it as an opportunity to attack the Lib Dems

    2% – Other

    5% – Don’t know

If Lib Dem members are critical of the party, they are at least as scathing of the fourth estate with many arguing that the volume of coverage was politically motivated to cause maximum embarrassment in the lead-up to the Eastleigh by-election. Here’s a sample of your comments:

Every story is an opportunity to attack Lib Dems. It was cynically timed to be as damaging as possible. However, this is just something we have to accept.

If we had spend our time investigating the allegations rather than blaming the newspapers and the victims, we might have come out with some credit. Instead we deserve everything we got in terms of bad publicity.

The channel 4 story was fair but the Daily Mail coverage and implication of Clegg was over the top.

I was disappointed by how many members I saw that focused on attacking the media for perceived bias instead of standing up against sexual harassment.

Party activists need to stop whining and grow up. This is a story. The party has a case to answer. It has failed to answer it. It does in that regard deserve to reap the whirlwind of media disdain.

This question really shows the self denial about the issue. and how completely out of touch the party is with the great problem it has recognising and respecting women.

Funny how virtually nothing has appeared in the press once the election was over!

Newspapers are by definition incapable of reporting anything fairly. They claim to be “free” but are controlled by many interests and necessities.

It is clear that the newspapers will do everything possible to attack the Lib Dems at every opportunity. That is a price worth paying for not being in their pockets, but we do need to be aware of it and do better to avoid giving them ammunition.

Some parts of the press did go OTT, particularly in run up to Eastleigh – but think largely counter-productive to protest too much.

Not just newspapers. BBC and radio/tv generally put the story at or near the top of their bulletins for days on end. Far fewer people buy newspapers these days, especially older people who are the voters !

I have no complaints with Channel 4, but the newspapers seemed more interested in influencing Eastleigh than in ensuring that the allegations were dealt with correctly.

It is a legitimate story that absolutely should be covered and should force us to do something serious about the culture within the party. I do think that keeping it going in the press was aimed at Eastleigh however.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 647 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 14th and 17th March.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.