The scandal enveloping Lord Rennard and the Liberal Democrats has developed further in the past 72 hours. As a long-standing Party member, it saddens me once again to see the Party I support and to which I have given time and money for over 30 years bleeding from self-inflicted wounds.
Legality, morality and politics have become inextricably tangled since the publication of Justice Webster's report into the allegations of sexual harassment made by several women against Lord Rennard. While Alex Carlile seems to take the view that the report has exonerated his colleague Chris Rennard, a more thorough reading of Justice Webster's words suggests otherwise.
The evidence of those allegedly molested by Lord Rennard is described as "broadly credible" but while under the English judicial system there is insufficient evidence to bring a successful prosecution against Chris Rennard, at no point is it to my understanding suggesting that Chris Rennard is completely innocent of any wrongdoing which would imply that all the evidence has been exaggerated or fabricated as part of a conspiracy to destroy Lord Rennard's reputation.
Justice Webster doesn't suggest innocence but recognises there is insufficient evidence to prove guilt.
Nick Clegg's response was to suggest Lord Rennard apologise but of course an apology, however couched, could be construed as an admission of guilt and leave Lord Rennard open to private prosecution and indeed renewed interest from the Police. In effect, Nick Clegg's actions have blocked the path to an apology.
Now it seems that Lord Rennard is so determined to flaunt his innocence that he is threatening legal action if not re-admitted to the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party in the Lords. It may be ironic that possibly Nick Clegg is regretting not having the dictatorial powers available to a Conservative or Labour leader. Instead, he is caught between the rock of public humiliation and the hard place of seeing Lord Rennard welcomed back into the fold by Liberal Democrat Peers.
Once again, I am staggered by the political naivety and stupidity of supposedly political people. I don't doubt both Nick Clegg and Chris Rennard know how bad this looks and how much damage it is doing to the Party. I fully appreciate and understand Lord Rennard's refusal to implicate himself - he may believe he has genuinely done nothing wrong or he may believe Justice Webster's report has exonerated him to the degree that he can carry on as though nothing has happened and the slightest admonishment would be an indication of a guilt he either does not feel or does not accept.
Being a member of a political Party does not compel you to be a saint - indeed, I don't doubt that whatever the commonality of political belief in a party (much less than you might think) there is a huge divergence of personal morality and moral code and behaviour condoned by some would be considered wholly unacceptable by others.
No one can stop Chris Rennard continuing to be a member of the Party (except Chris Rennard) but it is now time for the Peers to recognise that legal nuances and chicanery mean nothing to the public. The evidence is "broadly credible" as Webster has put it so it's time to recognise it and to recognise if not individual guilt then personal political responsibility and awareness. It is time for the Peers to see beyond the comfort of legal self-indulgence and consider the wider interests of the Party and its membership.
Some would argue Nick Clegg has taken a whole lot of punishment for the Party (some of it deserved, some not) but sometimes individuals need, in the greater interest of the Party, to stand up and take one for the team so to speak. It is now Chris Rennard's turn to help the party one last time - if not by apologising then by recognising that the bulk of the Party want him to be distant from them for the foreseeable period and therefore removing himself from all Party positions of responsibility would be the sensible and honourable thing to do.
As a political strategist, it's probably what Chris Rennard would recommend to a Councillor in the same position - it's time for him to follow his own advice and accept that this has gone far beyond his personal reputation and redemption and to take a more considered if not a more personally rewarding course.