Rennard’s suspension lifted today – but the Lib Dems lost control of this situation years ago

by Stephen Tall on August 19, 2014

Tonight’s news that Lib Dem peer and former chief executive Chris Rennard has had his membership un-suspended is unsurprising.

The plain fact is the grounds on which the party had withdrawn his membership – that by declining to apologise to a number of women who have made allegations against him of sexual impropriety when requested brought the party into disrepute – simply wasn’t tenable. (Former Lib Dem MP and lawyer David Howarth explained why here.)

His un-suspension solves nothing, though. The inquiry into Lord Rennard’s conduct by Alistair Webster QC found “the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible”. But it failed to pass the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ threshold the party (ludicrously) sets for investigations under its own rules. As a result, there was no possible due process under which Lord Rennard’s party membership could be revoked.

In reality the party lost control of the Rennard situation many years ago – the moment it decided not to act on the allegations when he was chief executive. As I wrote here in January:

Most of the complaints that have been made public were first raised privately while Lord Rennard was an employee of the Lib Dems. The key failing of the party’s processes is not, in fact, what is happening now: it is what didn’t happen then. Too many people at the top of the party simply wanted a difficult problem to go away, and some at least of the women who made the complaints were understandably very reluctant to push their complaints in order to spare the party embarrassment. As a result, the outcome was fudged. Lord Rennard resigned as the party’s chief executive in 2009 on grounds of ill health without the allegations being resolved. From that point on, the only disciplinary action he could face was as a member (beyond reasonable doubt proof required) not as an employee (balance of probabilities suffices). And, of course, the more time that lapses, the harder it gets to substantiate allegations to that higher threshold. 

Today was the inevitable and uncomfortable conclusion of the party’s failure to act properly at the time.

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5 comments

[…] Lindsay and Stephen Tall have written wisely about tonight’s news. It is telling that both, quite relevantly, quote […]

by Time to heave a sigh and stagger forward, older and wiser | Liberal Burblings on August 19, 2014 at 11:17 pm. Reply #

None of the above excuses the fact that Farron's statement to the party -presumably the last word, – makes very few of these points, which are basic the situation. Instead it concentrates almost entirely on how it may be dealt with in future. He makes not a word of apology to the victims for the Party's failures: how must they be feeling? And what will be the assessment of the onlookers, the nation's voters? That we made a mess of it, and do not in fact carry out our high principles in practice. Grandees can do what they like, just as in other parties.

by John L Oakes on August 20, 2014 at 7:16 am. Reply #

You’ve hit the nail on the head. However, I remain to be convinced that the ‘reasonable doubt’ party rules are ‘ludicrous’ or wrong. If we accept your analysis, which I do, then future similar scenarios should be dealt with promptly and properly while people are on the staff. Therefore, the party rules are irrelevant. We should base our assessment of the party rules on how they apply to party members, not ex-staff members. And I still see no reason why “beyond reasonable doubt” should not apply to the ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ rule.

by Paul Walter on August 20, 2014 at 10:50 pm. Reply #

I agree with Stephen. John, Tim's position as Party President is dogged with all sorts of legalisms. It will be the party as a whole which decides whether it will ensure that our collective shame at our pathetic processes and the behaviour of our 'grandees' is translated into anything tangible. It is also the party as a whole, rather than any 'grandees' which gets it in the neck over all this.

by Tony Dawson on August 21, 2014 at 10:13 am. Reply #

[…] 3. Rennard’s suspension lifted today but the Lib Dems lost control of this situation years ago by Stephen Tall on Stephen Tall. Stephen says, basically, that this is what happens when you don’t deal properly with stuff at the time. […]

by Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #387 on August 24, 2014 at 7:01 pm. Reply #

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