Lord Rennard has had his party membership reinstated. Photo: Getty
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Lord Rennard’s suspension from his party has been lifted

The peer who the Lib Dems suspended after sexual harassment allegations has had his party membership reinstated.

Coverage of the Liberal Democrats over this summer recess has been rather limited, and it seems aside from a small flurry of activity surrounding their pledge to raise the income tax allowance, this will be the biggest headline relating to the party during the break: Lord Rennard has been reinstated.

Rennard, a former senior figure in the party, was suspended from the Lib Dems, who accused him of bringing the party into disrepute over sexual harassment allegations. He issued an apology in May responding to the women who made claims against him after a period of refusing to do so, eventually telling them he regretted that he may have “inadvertently encroached” upon their “personal space”.

However, disciplinary proceedings have now been dropped and the peer has had his party membership reinstated by the Lib Dems.  According to the BBC, the party inquiry concluded that no further action should be taken against Rennard, finding that while the four female party activists’ claims against him were “broadly credible”, they could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Nick Clegg commented that, since the allegations were levelled against his colleague, his party had “taken a long, hard look in the mirror”, and that he is “confident that the party has changed.”

However, one of the activists who made a complaint, Susan Gaszczak, who left the party in July because of the Lib Dems’ refusal to expel Rennard from the party, has made this statement:

“The party democracy obviously has no moral compass. They say we are credible, then fail to act on it and don't see the impact this has on women and women voters.”

And the Daily Mail quotes another of the party workers who made allegations against the figure anonymously as saying the decision is a “kick in the teeth”, and warning that, “the party will never be trusted by women again”.

The shadow women and equalities minister and Labour MP Gloria de Piero also warned about the party’s attitude to women, remarking that Clegg is, “more interested in trying to salvage the Lib Dems fading election hopes than do the right thing by the women who made these serious complaints.”

The party’s statement says nothing about the decision behind dropping the disciplinary process, and will add to the Lib Dems’ problems with their approach and appeal both to female members and politicians. One of five from a woeful total of seven female Lib Dem MPs could easily lose their seats in the election, due to their slim majorities – and the party has yet to appoint a woman to a cabinet secretary position. It remains to be seen whether its attitude to its own women will translate to the attitude of female voters towards the party.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.