Why Chris Rennard should apologise, or stand down from the Lib Dems in the Lords and FPC

Whether or not someone should be in receipt of the party whip has never been just a matter of whether they have lost a criminal or civil legal action. At its most banal, the whip can get withdrawn when someone regularly votes against their own party – something that clearly does not involve any breach of the law.

I was glad to hear that criminal charges were not to be brought against Chris Rennard. I worked for him for many years, and owe much of what I know about political campaigning to his expertise. I also owe much of my subsequent career outside the party to his willingness to let me innovate with online campaigning at a time when even email was often considered a bit of a novelty.

I am also far more sympathetic than most to the idea that people have been conspiring against him, trying to oust him first as Chief Executive and then from the party. There are some who have been in regular conflict with him for many years and who have picked up whichever issue is to hand to try to win out over him. I’ve never found his more extreme conspiracy theories involving big tobacco firms convincing, but the more modest ones? Yes, there are some credible claims to be made about people deliberately trying to do him down.

What that doesn’t mean, however, is that all the claims about his behaviour are untrue. I’ve no reason to doubt the police’s conclusion that none of them match the criminal standards that would have been required for a prosecution.

But when it comes to who should have the whip – or indeed, if someone should continue on the party’s Federal Policy Committee (FPC) – behaviour doesn’t have to have broken the law for it still to be right to say that it isn’t up to the standards we as a party expect.

The FPC, of which I’m also a member, will shortly be discussing the party’s policy on equalities. It will over the next few months be discussing our general election manifesto, including many equality issues once again. Members of the Lords debate and vote on such matters regularly.

Against that background, I’m convinced that Chris Rennard’s behaviour has at times been such that an apology and reflection, as recommended by Alistair Webster, would be appropriate.

I am convinced of that in part because of Webster’s own conclusions. I am also convinced of that because of the number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour, short of any civil or criminal standard but still causing distress, which I have personally heard credible accounts of, from multiple people both within and outside the party, applying to multiple different occasions.

No conspiracy theory or stories of manipulative political rivals can sweep them all away. Nor does the fact that I know many female Liberal Democrats who have spent long periods of time in close company with Chris Rennard, never saw anything untoward and passionately believe in his innocence.

The cumulative weight of evidence is just too great when I add together both Webster’s conclusions and what I have heard myself, especially bearing in mind that some of the people involved have barely, if ever, met each other.

I have no reason to conclude any of the incidents involved breaking the law, especially bearing in mind the police’s conclusion. Nor do I think that such incidents make anyone irredeemable. I also think that Chris Rennard has been very badly served by Alex Carlile’s public defence of him, with his references to Henry VIII and North Korea, and indeed the party’s own processes have not done him huge favours either.

But the credible evidence does mean apology and reflection are right – and that without that, neither the party’s whip nor membership of the FPC are appropriate.


7 responses to “Why Chris Rennard should apologise, or stand down from the Lib Dems in the Lords and FPC”

  1. I value Mark’s balanced and convincing summary. But for me it is about judgement as well as who touched what with what. This is what I wrote on Chris’s website yesterday.
    “This is politics. It not an intellectual process, it’s an emotional one. If you have to start relying on legal arguments as to whether there is a 49% or 51% chance of some judicial resolution then you have already lost in the forum of public opinion. It is always an error of judgement for senior persons to put themselves in positions where their reputation could be compromised. Having done that and having reached what is at best a verdict of “Not Proven” it is a further and grosser error of judgement to pretend that “business as usual” can be resumed. In your case, Chris, to attack the leader and the party into the bargain is unforgivable. Your behaviour caused this and now your behaviour can solve it. Please make the right choice.”
    It is a third error of judgement that he now seeks to threaten and defy the party. It’s sad. It’s life. But the political situation is crystal clear. It’s politics – and in that arena it is now game over for Chris Rennard. And the party is faced with making a choice between yesterday and tomorrow.

  2. The fact that evidence is credible does not mean that it will stand up to scrutiny in a fair and open process, rather that it should lead to such a process and sanctions only be imposed if the evidence is found to be convincing once robustly examined by all parties. 

    If this were an employment issue then there would need to be a clear separation between the investigation and the disciplinary phases.  The first deciding whether there is a case to answer and the second to allow the employee to defend themselves against that case.  It seems hugely wrong to me that the evidence has not been subject to such a process- Webster is clear that has made no finding of fact and his report is based purely on written reports.

    If I, as an employer, enforced any sanction against an employee because they refused to accept my suggestion of apologizing I would be considered to be infringing the employees rights.  This would be exacerbated by the fact that I had found that their behavior did not warrant formal disciplinary action.

  3. I thought the Lib/Dems had common sense. The Rennard  camp will show the public that there are many self- centered, arrogant ,thought- less  OLD MEN in it.
    They seem to have no idea how the public think. Is saying :”Sorry if my actions unintentionally caused any distress” ?
    It would make me think about not voting for them -especially if I was a women. 
    Is he to blame for the lack of women in the party?? 
    What is wrong with the man? Time he went anyway.

  4. I agree totally Mark.
    A simple apology should have been made a while ago.This whole issue is very damaging to our party-and especially the message it sends to our younger males and females working within it.
    I think this is also about older  ‘powerful men’ and the belief that young women need to pander to them, accepting their ways, because they want to get on in the organisation. It may have been acceptable in the 70’s, but it shouldn’t be so now
    As a Lib Dem member who has received support from Chris in the past, I  found him to be sympathetic to the problems we faced and pleasant.
    But I am also an employer and I wouldn’t tolerate any behaviour from one individual who made others feel uncomfortable in the workplace.
    Isn’t that what 21st century working practice is all about? 

    I will quote some of your comments on my website if that’s OK? Please confirm

  5. Jackie Porter Sure, by all means do. Can you include a link back to here so people can see the full context of my comments (as I’d like people to understand all the steps in my logic in coming to the conclusion I have, given how high emotions are running on this issue).

  6. I have to say that, whilst the allegations against Chris Rennard are of inappropriate actions that are not acceptable in this day and age, I actually have a large amount of respect for him after his refusal to apologise. 
    Sorry would have been the easy option, would have made people happy and would have taken the pressure off him, but it would have been a lie. He isn’t sorry,  because he doesn’t think he has done wrong. Whether he is correct in those beliefs or not is irrelevant,  he refused to lie despite the overwhelming pressure of the party, media and whips pushing against him. 
    That shows strength and integrity that is sorely missing from politics in general. Maybe if more of us had shown that strength and integrity at the start of the coalition the country would have a higher opinion of the Liberal Democrats, as a lot of the people I’ve spoken to still haven’t forgiven the breaking of the student fees promise. 

    That said, as he has no remorse for his actions a punishment is required, and withdrawal of the whip does seem fair in the circumstances.

  7. Well said, Mark.  Chivalry never died, the “gentleman” in most men did.  Being male is a matter of birth, being a man is a matter of age but being a gentleman is a matter of choice.

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