Saturday, 23 February 2013

Allegations and Timings..

Up there with the news that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow is the truism that the Daily Mail will senationalise and over-dramatise and gorge in self-righteous hypocrisy concerning any story or rumour hostile to the Liberal Democrat Party in general and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in particular.

The Mail hates the fact of the Coalition - it is forced to mask its contempt for David Cameron but doesn't pull its punches where the Liberal Democrats are concerned. The Mail wants a Conservative majority Government following UKIP or ideally Thatcherite policies.

Once you understand that, the front page splash "Sex scandal engulfs Clegg" can be viewed with a hint of perspective. There might be those who might consider the timing of these "revelations" coming as they do barely a week before the Eastleigh by-election where a small Liberal Democrat lead is under threat as much from a strong UKIP performance as from a lacklustre Conservative campaign.

But let's not trivialise these allegations though they appear more to be a rehash of old stories - former Liberal Democrat campaign co-ordinator and one of the sharpest political operators of the 1990s and 2000s, Chris Rennard, is accused of inappropriate behaviour by a number of women who have at one time or another worked for the Party.

These allegations, while serious, are not by definition a crisis in the making. However, what is for me far more serious is the charge that a formal complaint against Chris Rennard was neither followed up or perhaps even covered up. Every organisation for which I've worked has had in place a robust mechanism for dealing with complaints by one member of staff against another. IF it is proved that the Party did not properly or reasonably deal with any complaint, then heads have to roll.

If all that is being claimed is that Nick Clegg's office "knew" about "allegations" against Rennard, that hardly constitutes a hanging offence despite the cant of the Mail and conservative bloggers. An allegation is not the same as a formal complaint - allegations fly around most organisations. Some might argue such allegations are personally or politically motivated by one person to undermine another. Airing allegations a week before a by-election could be construed as opportunism of the first order.

As always, we can rely on the Mail and the conservative press and blogsphere to spin the worst possible "commentary" on this from a Liberal Democrat perspective. The Party has moved swiftly to instigate a thorough investigation and I'll wait to see what that says before passing judgement. In terms of smearing and denigration, we can once again observe that the Mail has no pewer when it comes to gutter journalism and any faux sympathy it may express for the "victims" of Chris Rennard is, I'm sure, more than tempered by delight at forcing the Liberal Democrats on to the defensive.

As for Eastleigh, the by-election is now in the final stages. The Liberal Democrats appear to lead a tightening race with UKIP storming up the rails to challenge the Conservatives for second place. As Mike Smithson correctly observed on, this is now a critical contest for both Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

IF the Conservatives finish a close second, Cameron will probably be able to shrug it off but were the hapless Maria Hutchings to trail home third, there would be an explosion of discontent from Conservative ranks. Likewise, if Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton finished second or third, it might re-ignite thoughts of a challenge to Nick Clegg from Tim Farron.

As I well know, five days is a lifetime in by-election terms and there's all to play for.

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