Why do the Lib Dems suffer so many scandals?

From "Paddy Pantsdown", to Charles Kennedy, Mark Oaten, David Laws and Chris Huhne, the party has often been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

If it feels as if the Lib Dems suffer a lot of scandals for a small party, it's because they do. To refresh: in 1992, the party's first leader Paddy Ashdown was forced to disclose an affair five years earlier with his secretary Tricia Howard after the tabloids learned of the relationship (prompting the brilliant Sun headline "Paddy Pantsdown"). On 7 January 2006, Charles Kennedy resigned from the same position after announcing that he had sought "professional help" for a "drink problem".

Just two weeks later, Mark Oaten (who had been due to run Kennedy's campaign for re-election) quit as the party's home affairs spokesman after the News of the World revealed that he had an affair with a rent boy. Five days later (it was a surreal month), Simon Hughes announced that he too had had gay relationships despite running a homophobic campaign against Labour candidate Peter Tatchell during the 1983 Bermondsey by-election in which he was presented as "the straight choice" (for which he has since apologised). 

Since entering government, the party has seen one cabinet minister, David Laws, forced to resign for claiming expenses to pay rent to his partner, and another, Chris Huhne, imprisoned for perverting the course of justice by allowing Vicky Pryce to accept speeding points on his behalf. Last year, MP David Ward had the whip withdrawn after writing on Holocaust Memorial Day that he was "saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians", and, most recently, Chris Rennard, the party's former chief executive and elections maestro, was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment.  

Why do the Lib Dems, generally thought of as a dull but worthy bunch, produce such an inordinate number of scandals? Perhaps the most plausible explanation is the lack of scrutiny the party received before entering government. The Laws, Hune and Rennard scandals all have their origins in the years before 2010. Oaten memorably recounted how shocked he was when one of his rent boy's companions recognised him from TV and greeted him with the words "You're Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat MP", prompting him to reportedly reply: "It can't be me, I must have a double. I'm not a politician". No senior Lib Dem frontbencher would attempt this defence today. Another theory put to me by one Westminster source is that "liberals tend to be very permissive and thus more prone to scandal." Whatever the truth, Nick Clegg will surely hope that his party's closet has now finally been purged of skeletons. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Zac Goldsmith has bitten off more than he can chew

In standing as an independent, Goldsmith may face the worst of both worlds. 

After just 48 years, we can announce the very late arrival of the third runway at Heathrow. Assuming, that is, that it makes its way past the legal challenge from five local councils and Greenpeace, the consultation with local residents, and the financial worries of the big airlines. And that's not counting the political struggles...

While the Times leads with the logistical headaches - "Heathrow runway may be built over motorway" is their splash, the political hurdles dominate most of this morning’s papers

"Tory rebels let fly on Heathrow" says the i's frontpage, while the FT goes for "Prominent Tories lead challenge to May on Heathrow expansion". Although Justine Greening, a May loyalist to her fingertips, has limited herself to a critical blogpost, Boris Johnson has said the project is "undeliverable" and will lead to London becoming "a city of planes". 

But May’s real headache is Zac Goldsmith, who has quit, triggering a by-election in his seat of Richmond Park, in which he will stand as an anti-Heathrow candidate.  "Heathrow forces May into Brexit by-election" is the Telegraph's splash. 

CCHQ has decided to duck out of the contest entirely, leaving Goldsmith running as the Conservative candidate in all but name, against the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. 

What are Goldsmith's chances? To win the seat, the Liberal Democrats would need a 19.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives - and in Witney, they got exactly that.

They will also find it easier to squeeze the third-placed Labour vote than they did in Witney, where they started the race in fourth place. They will find that task all the easier if the calls for Labour to stand aside are heeded by the party leadership. In any case, that Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds have all declared that they should will be a boost for Olney even if she does face a Labour candidate.  

The Liberal Democrats are fond of leaflets warning that their rivals “cannot win here” and thanks to Witney they have one ready made.  

Goldsmith risks having the worst of all worlds. I'm waiting to hear whether or not the Conservatives will make their resources freely available to Goldsmith, but it is hard to see how, without taking an axe to data protection laws, he can make use of Conservative VoterID or information gathered in his doomed mayoral campaign. 

But in any case, the Liberal Democrats will still be able to paint him as the Brexit candidate and the preferred choice of the pro-Heathrow Prime Minister, as he is. I think Goldsmith will find he has bitten more than he can chew this time.

This article originally appeared in today's Morning Call, your essential email covering everything you need to know about British politics and today's news. You can subscribe for free here.

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