How Clegg changed his line on Rennard's resignation

After previously suggesting that the Lib Dem chief executive resigned on "health grounds" alone, Clegg admits that concerns over his "inappropriate behaviour" were "in the background".

In his statement on Sunday night, Nick Clegg pointedly noted that Chris Rennard resigned as Liberal Democrat chief executive in 2009 on "health grounds". The implicit suggestion was that Rennard's departure was unrelated to the concerns raised over his behaviour towards female staff. 

But on his phone-in show on LBC radio this morning, the Deputy Prime Minister changed his line. He told presenter Nick Ferrari: "His health was poor and that was the immediate reason he left but of course these things [the concerns over Rennard's behaviour] were in the background." When Channel 4 News's Cathy Newman called into the programme and highlighted this inconsistency, Clegg repeated: "He left on health grounds but of course the issues of his inappropriate behaviour were in the background, of course they were". 

The questions the Deputy PM will need to answer are why he previously sought to give the impression that Rennard's resignation was on health grounds alone and why, if his "inappropriate beaviour" was a factor in his departure, the former chief executive was allowed to return to a senior role in the party as a member of its federal policy committee. 

Update: Here's the moment that "Cathy in Dulwich" called Clegg. 

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg leaves his home on February 27, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.