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Blaming Lib Dem HQ over the Rennard allegations is wrong; party members must step up

In a party that prides itself on the power its members have over procedure, perhaps it's they who should be blamed for the handling of the Rennard case.

Nick Clegg. Photo: Getty
Finger-jabbing at HQ over the party's handling of the Rennard allegations isn't right. Photo: Getty

The men in grey sandals (as I saw my Westminster betters in the Lib Dem party memorably described this morning) are getting it in the neck again.

What’s sparked the party’s ire is the news that Susan Gaszczak has resigned, together with her entire family (including her father Brian, a councillor for 24 years up until May and one of my own local representatives), over the party's handling of the Rennard allegations.

Dedicated, passionate, liberal to the core, Susan is exactly the sort of grassroots activist who has built the party up into a party of government. Without the thousands of members knocking on doors, shoving leaflets through doors and manning stalls on wet high streets in November championing the Lib Dem cause, we are nothing. There is a strong sense of irony that the person most folk in the party credit with building that local community machine has been the catalyst for Susan’s resignation. There are no winners here.

And there seems little doubt that whatever the rights and wrongs of the issues that have led us to this unhappy place, the due process and disciplinary machinery of the Lib Dems has once again been shown to be lacking. Any complaints process in which progress can be measured in years rather than days, weeks or months would seem questionable in the extreme.

But I don’t think on this occasion, finger-jabbing at HQ is the right answer here. I’m not sure it’s the Westminster elite is where we should be apportioning blame.

I think it might be my fault.

You see, we’re meant to be the party of the members. The party where the local activists decide what goes. The party where it's meant to be impossible for the Westminster folk to "win" policy debates or decide what goes in the manifesto, because the members will decide that at conference, thank you very much. Or where, if enough folk feel we lack credible leadership, a mechanism exists to trigger a leadership election, without volunteers having to run a seat-of-the-pants totalizer to see what the mood of the party is.

And if those things don’t happen, or if we put up with MPs and peers defying party policy when they vote in parliament and we don’t do anything about it, or if we see that seven years after a complaint is first made against a senior member of the party, the procedure for dealing with that complaint is still running… well then the people who make policy, who shape procedure and who have the power to do something about it who should take the blame.

And that’s me. And the other 40,000 plus members of the party.

I suspect it may be time for the men (and women) in grey Doc Martens to step up to the plate. Because if we don’t sort this stuff out, no one else is going to do it for us.