"We screwed this up" The Lib Dems flail after Clegg's admission

Party president Tim Farron admits the Lib Dems "screwed up" as Clegg insists there is "nothing to hide".

"We screwed this up," Tim Farron bluntly told the Today programme this morning and, as today's front pages suggest, the Lib Dem president isn't wrong about that. For days, the party gave the impression that Nick Clegg knew nothing about the allegations of sexual misconduct against Chris Rennard only for Clegg to return from holiday last night and admit that he was aware of "indirect and non-specific concerns". 

In his own interview on BBC Radio Solent, Clegg, unlike Farron, suggested that the Lib Dems had behaved entirely appropriately. "The problem, as I explained yesterday, is that until last week no specific allegations were put to me, we acted on general concerns, now those general concerns have evolved into specific allegations we can act and we will," said the Deputy PM. Both he and the party had "nothing to hide". 

But the question remains why more wasn't done at the time to investigate the "general concerns" that Clegg now admits he was aware of. When Danny Alexander, Clegg's then chief of staff, confronted Rennard (who denied and still denies any misconduct) in 2008 did he simply take his denials at face value? In addition, those in the party, such as Jo Swinson and Paul Burstow, who were made aware of specific allegations by the women concerned urgently need to account for their actions. 

A further issue is whether Rennard's resignation in 2009 was made on health grounds alone, as Clegg and Alexander insisted in their statements, or whether the "general concerns" about his behaviour also played a role. Simon Hughes notably told Sky News this morning that "If there were other reasons for that [the resignation] they may emerge". Clegg is known to have held a two hour meeting with Rennard on the morning he resigned. Were the rumours of misconduct discussed then?

Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg at last year's Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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