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.

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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser