UPDATED: Chris Rennard stands down from Federal Executive

Here is Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron’s statement on the election of Chris Rennard to the Lib Dem Federal Executive (FE) by the party’s peers:

As you know, Chris Rennard’s election to the Federal Executive has prompted party members to call for a Special Conference.

I have not spoken out until now as I have been giving Chris time to reflect on the party’s reaction to his election.

I have decided it is time to make clear publicly that I do not believe it is in the interests of the party for Chris to take up his position on the FE.

Chris was entitled to stand for election and the Lords were entitled to elect him. That does not mean his decision to put himself forward was in the best interests of the party.

Helena Morrissey’s review threw the spotlight on our party’s culture and working practices. We have made major changes to the constitution and to the rules we use to apply its values.

For example, we have ensured that for instances of alleged discrimination, bullying, harassment or intimidation, we now operate to the standards you would expect in most modern workplaces.

However, I also believe that the call for a Special Conference shows we still have some way to go to convince our members that the party’s culture has changed.

In considering this, I think it’s also important to remember that our Conference this year showed very clearly how the party feels about the Leader being able to intervene in decision-making. The idea for a Leader’s veto on the manifesto was kicked out without even being discussed. It is right I should not be allowed to reverse outcomes just because I or others don’t like them.

I am, though, entitled to an opinion on the decisions taken by our party and whether I believe they are in our best interests.

A Special Conference is not in our best interest. It will divert considerable time, energy and resource away from Oldham and the growing fightback we are mounting across the UK.

The party needs unity and must move on accepting the recommendations of Helena Morrissey’s reports into the culture and processes within the party, although it will take more time to do this.

Chris serving on the FE is not in our best interest, as the levels of anger and division have shown.

UPDATE: Chris Rennard has now stood down from the Federal Executive. He issued this statement earlier today:

A week ago, I was elected by the votes of the Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords to be their representative on the party’s Federal Executive. Any Lib Dem peer could have stood, all of them could vote, and I was elected by 44 votes to 25. Since then a number of party members have objected to that outcome and sought to effectively overturn it by removing the right of the Lib Dem peers to have a representative on it.

I was disappointed that in a party called the Liberal Democrats there should be such a challenge to the result of a democratic election. I recognise, however, that there has been much controversy in the party and this has continued partly because it has been very poor in communicating to its members the outcomes of all the various processes investigating allegations made against me. In particular, many members have remained unaware of the key conclusion concerning me in the final report of the independent businesswoman, Helena Morrissey, who reviewed these processes.

Last December, her conclusion was that:

“At this point, December 2014, every investigation has concluded with no further action to be taken against Lord Rennard. The process over the past nearly two years – conducted according to the prevailing rules – has run its course and although the outcome is a source of great frustration to some, I believe that the Party can only move on if that outcome is accepted. At this stage, given that the Party applied its own processes, there is no justification for it remaining ambivalent towards Lord Rennard – he should be just as welcome a participant or guest at Party events as any other.”

I believe that the party should have done more to promote mediation before the police and party investigations began, and also to communicate fairly and properly the “No Further Action” outcomes of all the various investigations concerning the allegations made against me. This made it more difficult to heal the divisions in the party. But the party cannot be criticised for any failure to take the allegations seriously. At least six emails sent to party members by the party’s HQ sought information about any complaints, and any evidence. The party co-operated fully with the police, as did I.

The thorough and professional investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service concluded that there would be no charges, and the Police did not send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. The party’s independent investigator, Alistair Webster QC, then reviewed carefully all evidence submitted to him, and twice concluded that it was insufficient to hold a disciplinary hearing to investigate any further. He informed me personally of the “no further action” decision, and he made no requests of me, when doing so.

In the current political circumstances, holding a special conference to consider whether or not the Lib Dem peers should have a representative on the Federal Executive would make the party look absurd, cost a great deal of money that is needed for campaigning, and do nothing to heal the divisions. More time is required for the party to implement fully Helena Morrissey’s final report concerning the party processes and culture.

Liberal Democrats do not believe in trial by media or social media. Nor do we believe that any individual should be treated as being in a halfway house between innocent and guilty after allegations have been made, have been investigated and none of the complaints upheld. The absence of clear information in the party about the outcome of all the processes to which I was subject has also contributed to the way in which I have suffered a great deal of “cyber bullying” of the kind that we criticise other parties’ political activists for.

In the interests of party unity, and on the basis that the party will over time implement in full all of the proposals in Helena Morrissey’s final report, I have agreed to withdraw from the Federal Executive. It is with sadness that I do so, because I enjoy the support of my parliamentary colleagues, and very many party members at all levels. Many of them value my relevant experience in a party to which I have belonged since my teens, and for which I ran many of our most successful election campaigns under the leaderships of Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell (taking us up to 63 MPs by 2006 and therefore able to enter government in 2010).

Helena Morrissey’s conclusions from December 2014 should all be made properly known to the party, and it should then move on. I accept that implementation of all of them will take significantly more time and that I should continue to concentrate on my role as a Lib Dem peer where we in the House of Lords have an obligation to resist unfair and antidemocratic measures to the limits of the Parliament Acts, and to help the party as a member in other ways, and without being on the Federal Executive.

The Liberal Democrats, led by Tim Farron, are capable of providing the compassionate and caring, but non-socialist alternative to the Conservatives that I believe every part of Great Britain needs. I believe that over the next five years many more people will realise what they have lost without having greater influence on government from the Liberal Democrats. In current times, it is also Liberal Democrat values of internationalism, democracy, justice, environmentalism and respect for others that is most needed in the world.

I do not intend to add further to this statement.

As a result of this, the special conference which had been called has been cancelled.

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