‘I can only tell you the truth as I can recollect it now’: Clegg faces the public

Nick Clegg struggled to paint a convincing picture of what he knew about the harassment allegations against Lord Rennard today, during a bruising session of his weekly radio phone-in on LBC.

The Liberal Democrat leader offered a confusing assessment of when he had first heard of the allegations and what he did about them during the early days of his leadership.

"I can only tell you the truth as I can recollect it now," he told listeners.

The deputy prime minister then admitted allegations of sexual harassment led to Rennard's resignation from the party, despite assuring press outlets over the weekend that the decision was taken on health grounds.

"His health was poor and that was the immediate reason but of course these things were in the background," Clegg said.

The Lib Dem leader said he was only aware of concrete allegations following the Channel 4 documentary last week but that he had heard of "indirect and non-specific concerns" before then.

That account is questioned by several figures, including former MP Sandra Gidley, who told the Telegraph she warned Clegg personally about Rennard in 2007.

"She said we had a general conversation about concerns related to Lord Rennard, that she wasn't aware and I wasn't aware of any specific allegations," Clegg said.

"In 2008 the general concerns expressed to me in my office were such that we acted upon them."

He added: "I did not know about those allegations. For anyone who knows me it's crucial you treat people with respect and dignity in everything you do. That's clearly did not happen here."

The Liberal Democrat leader was attacked for his disparaging assessment of the media as "self-appointed detectives" yesterday, as the row over harassment allegations against Rennard continued.

Yesterday's ComRes poll put the party on just eight per cent support, while a YouGov poll for the Sun this morning found only 11% of voters thought Clegg was "open and honest" about the affair, while 52% thought he was not.

Just two per cent of voters said they felt more positively towards the Lib Dems after the scandal, while 28% said they felt more negative.