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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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