Liberal Democrat MP Chris Rennard, who stands accused of sexual harassment, has told his party to lift his suspension by Thursday the 13th of February or face legal action. Rennard stands accused of inappropriate touching by four female activists – an allegation which he strongly denies; and for which, despite the request of an internal investigation, he refuses to apologise. His refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing or apologise caused his party to suspend his membership in January.
The Lord is now seeking an injunction to overturn his suspension on the grounds that it is unlawful and flouts the party’s own rules and constitution. He claims to be the victim of a political witch-hunt seeking to throw his name into disrepute and end his career with the Lib Dems. The letter from Rennard’s lawyers threatens to hold senior party members personally liable for damages against the former Chief Executive. Mike Wheatley, chair of the Regional Parties Committee, Margaret Joachim, vice-chair of the Committee and Peter Ellis, Chair of the Liberal Democrats English Party could have to pay Rennard’s legal fees and damages personally should the court case be won.
The scandal has split the party down the middle, as Rennard has no lack of supporters. Excisting mostly amongst the older generation of Lib Dem’s, these supporters credit him with being the electioneering mastermind who transformed the parties fortunes long before Nick Clegg became a key player. However not all of his supporters have proved helpful, the situation was exacerbated in January when Lib Dem MP Chris Davies said in a BBC interview; “This is not Jimmy Saville. This is touching someone’s leg six years ago at a meeting through clothing. This is the equivalent a few years ago of an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom. How much is this man going to have to suffer through media condemnation that comes out day after day fed by the party leadership? It is completely out of proportion, nonsense and outrageous.” His comment sparked anger and a strong accusation of sexism amongst some of the party.
Whichever way the case goes, it seems obvious that this incident has done considerable damage to an already deeply wounded party. It would seem Nick Clegg’s perpetual caricature sad face is unlikely to change any time soon.