Lib Dem candidate: "we are going on about whether somebody put his hand on somebody's knee...this isn't a Jimmy Savile case"

Party candidate Jasper Gerard claims that allegations of sexual misconduct against Chris Rennard have been "blown out of all proportion".

After the events of recent days, one might assume that all Lib Dems would go out of their way to show contrition, but not party candidate and former Observer journalist Jasper Gerard. 

Appearing on The World At One, Gerard, the author of a biography of Nick Clegg, said of the allegations of sexual misconduct by Chris Rennard:

"We are still now going on about whether somebody put his hand or didn't put his hand on somebody's knee. This isn't a Jimmy Savile case revisited."

It's the kind of comment that exemplifies precisely why allegations of this kind aren't taken seriously to begin with. 

And there was more. Gerard, who was recently selected as the Lib Dem PPC for Maidstone and The Weald, suggested that the "unfortunate" claims had been "blown out of all proportion", describing them as "pretty historical".

"You've got to bear in mind that [Rennard] hasn't even been chief executive of the party for four years. Are we going to start dredging up things that Lloyd George did? This is pretty historical."

In response to his comments, Alison Smith, one of Rennard's alleged victims, tweeted, "Hoping that Jasper Gerrard will be deselected for those comments #Rennard". 

Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell with former party chief executive Chris Rennard at the Liberal Democrat conference in 2006. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.