UK Politics

Nick Clegg denies any cover-up

Nick Clegg faces more questions today and it feels as if another apology could be on the way as the Liberal Democrat leader admitted last night he was aware of complaints of sexual misconduct made against the party’s’ former chief executive Lord Rennard.

All this and we are just days away from the Eastleigh parliamentary by-election sparked by the resignation Chris Huhne. The Lib Dems were prior to this story breaking predicted to win and beat their coalition partners. This could make for a much tighter race as voters go to the polls on Thursday.

For days last week Clegg’s aides had denied he knew anything of the rumours about Rennard. These denials were heard again earlier yesterday when Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that “Nick Clegg has also said he was not aware of these allegations until they appeared on TV last week. But they are serious, and we take them very seriously”.

By last night, however, the Deputy Prime Minister admitted he did know. At least he knew something, but clearly chose not to ask any questions or to learn anything more. What he said he knew was something about “indirect and non-specific” allegations against Lord Rennard who stands accused by several women of inappropriately touching and propositioning female party workers. The Peer has denied the claims.

Horrible headlines for Nick Clegg (via @TimMontgomerie):

It sounds basically like Clegg didn’t inhale, at least not directly.

In a statement statement Clegg said he was angry, nay he was outraged, that people would think that if he suspected these “indirect and non-specific” allegations were of substance he would have done nothing about them.

It should be noted that Rennard resigned on “health grounds” in 2009, less than a year after Clegg learnt of these “indirect and non-specific” allegations. Nice timing.

Labour has called for an enquiry. Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Equalities and Women said:  “Only with a fully independent investigation can the public have confidence that the truth will prevail and lessons learned for the future.”

Clegg’s statement: “I am angry and outraged at the suggestion that I would not have acted if these allegations had been put to me. Indeed, when indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them.

“My chief of staff at the time, Danny Alexander, put these concerns to Chris Rennard and warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable.

Chris Rennard categorically denied that he had behaved inappropriately and he continues to do so. He subsequently resigned as Chief Executive on health grounds [in 2009].

As my office only received concerns indirectly and anonymously, as those involved understandably wanted to maintain their privacy, there was a limit to how we could take this matter forward following Chris Rennard’s resignation. It is incorrect to state that there was any other separate inquiry by my office or anybody in it.

“I recognise from the Channel 4 broadcast that there are legitimate concerns that issues raised with the party were not handled as well as they should have been. In particular the suggestion that a complaint was made but was not dealt with as a formal complaint. I am therefore determined that we carry out a thorough investigation into our procedures and how we applied them at the time to ensure we have a full and clear picture of what happened and the lessons that we need to learn. This review will be independently chaired.

“A separate investigation into the specific allegations about Lord Rennard will take place under our disciplinary procedure. It is essential that this is carried out with due process and for that reason I cannot provide a running commentary on it. But I am absolutely determined that both these investigations will be carried out thoroughly and comprehensively. These investigations may well reveal flawed procedures, and clearly the women concerned feel they were not properly listened to. But I totally reject the insidious suggestion that my office or I are responsible in any way for a deliberate cover up.

“The full truth of what happened and what failed to happen and who said what to whom will be revealed by these investigations.

“But in the meantime, I will not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs. The important thing is that we respect the women who have come forward and do everything to get to the truth. That is what will now happen.”

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