‘There’s no greater good, just everyone doing a s*** job’: Rennard scandal threatens to fracture the Lib Dems
Nick Clegg was fighting multiple fires as result of the Chris Rennard scandal today, as he found himself on the receiving end of a searing attack from a former aide.
Bridget Harris, a former special adviser to the deputy prime minister and one of four party activists who made allegations against the peer, quit the party yesterday and accused Clegg of failing to show "moral leadership".
She added: "He's eating humble pie and it's 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry'. I gave him a bit of a bollocking and he said: 'There's nothing I can do, you can't imagine how frustrating it is.' He's the party leader, for god's sake. If he can't do anything, who can?
"You go into politics and you accept the notion of a collective agreement for the greater good. After 15 years working in the Lib Dems I realised there's no greater good, just everyone doing a shit job.
"Parliament is a place of blind ignorance, stuffed with racists and sexists and they are all idiots and they are accepted. And that's why I walked away. I was actually wasting my time."
Rennard could face a new investigation after members complained he was bringing the Liberal Democrats into disrepute by failing to apologise for allegations of sexual harassment.
But the former Lib Dem chief executive has considerable support from fellow peers, many of whom believe he has been unfairly treated.
Several lords are angry at the way he is talked about as if he was guilty when the party's last investigation found it could not prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt.
"Why should he [apologise]? He's denied all those allegations," Alexander Carlile, Rennard's legal adviser, said.
Alistair Webster, the QC who conducted the investigation, warned Clegg against ignoring his findings.
"Whilst there may well be scope for a legitimate debate about the standard of proof required in these cases, neither Nick Clegg or anyone else can be expected to ignore the rules and avoid due process," he said.
"That is the very antithesis of all that Liberal Democrats stand for."
Webster was also forced to defend himself against accusations by Rennard's allies that the report findings were kept secret and that he overstepped his brief by calling on the peer to apologise.
"The suggestion that Lord Rennard might wish to apologise was not one I envisaged as being contentious," he said.
"I viewed Lord Rennard, from the weight of the evidence submitted, as being someone who would wish to apologise to those whom he had made to feel uncomfortable, even if he had done so inadvertently. I would consider it to be common manners."
Carlile told Sky News that any effort to once again remove the whip from Rennard could result in legal action.
"[Rennard] will take formal legal advice and the matter could end up in the public law courts
"Why did Clegg intervene when the matter had been resolved in Rennard's favour? Nick Clegg should have kept an entirely neutral position on this.
"If this sort of thing happened to Nick Clegg's constituents he would have been the first to express fury at the arbitrariness and unfairness of what's been exposed."
Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies has pledged to financially back any legal action Rennard takes against the party over his treatment.
"The women and men who cheered in that group have no concept of how that looks to the outside world, in ordinary workplaces," Harris said.
"Nick Clegg had a duty to show moral leadership. He hasn't.
"There's no reason he can't let it be known that Chris Rennard is still persona non grata, and if anyone wants to disagree with that they can go and sit on the cross-benches with him. But he won't risk that kind of split.
"The House of Lords have always seen themselves as on the side of civil liberties and the law. It's stuffed full of QCs and so they are quite comfortable being the final arbitrators of what's wrong and what's right without giving a fig for public opinion. But they don't see everyone outside looking aghast at them.
"They won't be told, like ageing parents set in their ways. Nick Clegg can say to them: 'Can't you see this is killing the Lib Dems, we're being slaughtered by the press and public' until he is blue in the face. I believe in change. But after over a decade in politics I don't believe that parliament is the place for change any more."
Clegg has said the whip should not be returned to Rennard unless he apologises, but it is for peers to decide whether he allowed back in.
The Sunday Mirror reported that even Clegg's wife, Miriam González Durántez, was taking action against Rennard's return to the fold.
"Miriam is furious at the way the Lord Rennard affair has unfolded," a friend of the lawyer told the newspaper.
"She knows the alleged victims well and feels they have been treated very shabbily and with a total lack of respect.
“Miriam believes there is no way that Lord Rennard should be allowed to rejoin Lib Dems in the House of Lords unless he apologises. She feels the party has yet again let down loyal female activists.”
Channel 4 revealed a Facebook message in which Rennard seemed to consider making an apology to the women.
"I tried to make/consider an apology years ago, but was totally rebuffed by the complainants. One accepted then reneged!" he wrote.
"An appeal and further legal actions are threatened, so I could not apologise in any event even if justified (which it is not).
"It would damage the women and the party much more if I said any more."
The post has since been deleted, probably for legal reasons.