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Rennard’s Syndrome

What is it about powerful men, sexual assault allegations, and the inability of ostensibly democratic parties to treat such accusations with due weight and carry through proper investigations? I suppose to pose the question that way is to answer it. The Liberal Democrats’ handling of the Lord Rennard enquiry has been a proper shambles, involving cock ups and conspiracies, accusations passed over for the “good of the party”, legalistic burdens of proof, refusals to apologise, bizarre defences of conduct and, latterly, blood-curdling threats. Far be it for me to point you at Dan Hodges two days running, but his piece is the best summation I’ve seen.

You can almost understand why the higher ups covered for this – ironically – untouchable LibDem. He is/was a “genius”. It was Rennard who came up with the LibDems’ turn to so-called pavement politics in the 90s, of appearing to be all things to all people. I also think it was Rennard who came up with the stirring slogans “it’s a two horse race!”, “winning here!”, and the sublime beauty of the LibDem bar chart. Give him his due, Rennard’s strategic nous was very useful for the LibDems. One should not overplay him as a factor in the party’s successes between 1989 and 2009. After all, by that point the respective declines of Toryism and Labourism had sent in. But Rennard took the advantages the circumstances afforded and ran with them. If anyone can take the credit for building the yellow party into the third political force, it’s him.

One cannot help but recall another case where a senior, behind-the-scenes political figure was shielded by party officialdom because of his “indispensability”.

There are lessons here, of course. You don’t need me to tell you of the differences should you compare the SWP and the LibDems. The latter is formally and substantively more democratic than the swuppie apparatus. It also occasionally wins elections, and some people may have heard of it too. And, yes, the gravity of the alleged offences are substantially different.

On top of the unspoken privileges conferred on powerful men of all political persuasions, the way both parties and, if I may be so bold, our political cultures are structured build up essential cadres as weird kinds of superstars. Parties, among other things, are collective endeavours in which individual talents and experiences are pooled to meet certain objectives. Theoretically speaking, if someone has a little black book of useful contacts – trade unionists, business people, influential residents, whatever; that should at least be harnessed for the party’s common good. But very often that doesn’t happen for all kinds of reasons associated with ‘standing’, factional alignments, etc. The reality of party life rewards those who don’t spread political capital thinly but shepherd it like a scare resource, spending it here, investing it there. As one’s star rises so does influence, power and institutional charisma. And so does the capacity to abuse that position. You might be tempted to call this ‘Rennard’s Syndrome’.

The easy and obvious conclusion to draw is that we need to do politics differently. The hardest thing to do is making that a reality.


  1. eric clyne says:

    Why don’t these young women speak out? We expect so much courage of the women of Afghanistan whom we are abandoning. But we expect so little courage of the young women employed in our legislature.

    John Mann MP says in Labour List that he knows of men misbehaving and that, ”I would like to name and shame them. But then I also invade the rights and privacy of the people I believe to be victims and that is as invasive as the offending behaviour.”

    So nothing happens. No-one will speak out. Nothing will change until the silence is broken.

  2. Robert says:

    Well of course the Liberals have this bloke and Labour have a few of their own, if it’s not playing silly games on the lawn or having sex over a desk in an office, or belting Tories after a skin full.

    Seems power corrupts and well you know the saying.

    I also know that throwing stones in a green house you better have bullet proof glass if your in the labour party

  3. swatantra says:

    Eric makes an excellent point.
    I’m thinking back to the Plebgate fiasco, when many people jumped in and practically crucified Mitchell before getting to the actual truth of the matter: that some members of the Police Feredation tried to Stich up Mitch. Are we in danger of doing the same with Rennard, brought up in a different permissive era when complimenting women by touching was pretty much a common practice, and I would also add when women did not hesitate from using their physical charms to the utmost to progress up the ladder as fast as possible.
    If the women concerned feel that affronted, then why don’t they bring charges against Rennard? in the Civil Courts. Of course that kind of behaviour was deplorable then as it is now, and should be condemned roundly. It was not excusable then and certainly is not excusable now.

  4. John reid says:

    I agree with Swantantra

    ,robert I don’t understand what your saying this article isn’t attack on the liberals as a party,but commenting on power some people to intimidate others,

  5. John reid says:

    Both Rod Liddle in the Spectator and there’s a couple of article in the Telegraph,one by lord Tebbit,supporting are nard

  6. Dan says:

    There was a proper investigation and he was cleared. But that’s never good enough for radfems or their bullied male apologists, is it?

    There’s nothing a man can do in this modern PC society.

  7. Dan says:

    Oh, and Eric Clyne, we don’t owe Afghan women a damn thing. They need to solve their own problems.

  8. James Martin says:

    From what I can make out if Rennard had done these things in an average workplace then he would almost certainly have been facing gross misconduct charges and probably the sack due to the number of consistent statements against him for abusing his power and sexual harassment.

    Nowt to do with the police, and the criminal level of guilt should not have even come into a case like this, but the fact that the Lib-Dims can’t seem to get rid of the dirty old man because he has not committed a criminal offence is bizarre to say the least, but not unexpected – that party has always appeared to have a high number of members with some pretty dodgy personal morals and uncertain grasp of truth and decency.

  9. Dan says:

    An average workplace is a capitalist enterprise where workers have no rights. In the Lib Dems it appears that it’s still required to prove the accusations you make. Rennard’s accusers failed utterly.

  10. James Martin says:

    Oh Dan. Workers have no rights eh? Well yes, workplaces being the at the heart of capitalist exploitation the power balance is almost always tilted towards the bosses rather than the workers. The same goes for the courts and tribunal systems. But hey, we are not in a fascist, or for that matter year zero Pol Pot slave state here. Trade union struggles and previous Labour governments have established some important rights at some levels over the years. And having been an active trade unionist in a number of industries and multiple workplaces over a number of decades I can tell you that those rights are often very important unless you are a middle-class student ultra-left who doesn’t know his arse from his disciplinary procedure (or doesn’t want to).

    And I can safely say, having dealt with some Rennards over the years, that I would be pretty confident that these days most employers would be forced to sack him for gross misconduct using balance of probability. That is not to say that these people (or someone that tells the boss to f-off and suffers a similar fate) have committed a criminal offence, and so therefore the higher burden of prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ doesn’t come into it. Unless you are a Lib-Dim tosser of course.

    I’ll make it simple for you Dan (I think you need it). John Terry stood trial for a criminal offence relating to racism and was found not guilty of committing one. However, for the same offence he was quite clearly in breach of FA rules around racist behaviour and language and was found guilty in an employment setting of those breaches and fined and suspended accordingly. There is no contradiction between the two matters relating to the same offence in this (except I think for Sun readers).

    So Rennard has been judged by their enquiry to be not guilty of criminal behaviour. Well so what, he was hardly likely to have been was he. But quite clearly he was and is guilty of offensive sexual harassment and abuses of power and office (the same enquiry found as much) that any decent political party would punish. But not the institutionally dishonest and sexist Lib-Dims of course…

  11. Rod says:

    The problem for Labour is that the Rennard shenanigans may make things somewhat difficult for the prospects of a post-2015 coalition with the LibDems.

    If the LibDems have, as Dan Hodges suggests via your link, squandered the opportunity to become a serious force in UK politics, it’s not going to be easy for Miliband – who needs all the credibilty he can get – to invite the LibDem leader into Number 10’s rose garden for the post-agreement handshake photo opportunity.

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