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.”
“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.