U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he has “nothing to hide” amid suggestions his Liberal Democrat party tried to cover up allegations of sexual harassment against former Chairman Chris Rennard.
Channel 4 News last week broadcast allegations by four women of sexual impropriety by Rennard in incidents spanning several years, the first in 2003. Rennard, a lawmaker in the House of Lords, Parliament’s upper, unelected chamber, oversaw electoral strategy for the party. He denies any wrongdoing.
Clegg said today that he had acted on “general concerns” expressed about Rennard’s conduct in 2008, though none of the women concerned, including one who worked in the Liberal Democrat leader’s office, had raised specific allegations with him personally at the time.
“I have nothing to hide,” he told BBC Radio Solent. “The party has nothing to hide. We have to listen to the women who feel they were not listened to and to get to the truth.”
The allegations against Rennard are poor timing for Clegg, who is battling his Conservative coalition partners to hold on to the parliamentary district of Eastleigh in southern England in a special election on Feb. 28. The seat became vacant when former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Chris Huhne resigned as a lawmaker after admitting to perverting the course of justice.
Clegg issued a statement last night saying he had heard of “non-specific concerns” about Rennard’s conduct five years ago. Because the complaints were made indirectly and anonymously, he said, the party was limited in how far it could proceed once Rennard had resigned in 2009, citing ill health. There will now be an investigation into the allegations against Rennard and another probe into whether the party followed the correct procedures in dealing with the complaints.
Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program that the party had “screwed this up.”
While the party is “horrified” by the allegations, there were “likely failures within the party to deal with this early on,” he said. He said that he had heard rumors a year ago, though he was not aware of specific details until last week.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes who was the party’s president between 2004 and 2008, told ITV’s “Daybreak” program today that it “was not the case that the party at senior level received specific allegations at that time.”