The accusations and subsequent investigations around Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard undoubtedly plunged the party into a crisis from which they are only just beginning to emerge. The sad thing is that what we currently know is only the tip of the iceberg.
Sources within the party often tell me of inappropriate behaviour from lecherous MPs past and present. These include one ex-MP who seemed to regularly need to hire new staff, as a steady stream of bright young things quickly left his employ. Down south, the truth of who-knew-what-when about suspended Portsmouth Councillor and MP Mike Hancock is still to be unravelled.
There are many good people in the party who want to make the Liberal Democrats a safe environment for volunteers and staff, and who have tried that their best to deal properly with previous cases. Others have clearly failed.
It’s a sad truth that things like this happen in all parties. Politics is a very male-dominated environment, and all political parties, indeed all membership organisations, try to protect their own. However, the Lib Dems, the party that has preached transparency and diversity, has all too often behaved like a cult.
Various cases, not all of them to do with sexual misconduct, which should have gone through a proper human resources structure seem to have instead been dealt with on an ad hoc basis, by people clearly not qualified to complete the tasks that they were assigned.
This cultish tendency has been exacerbated because when you are under pressure for every seat, for every vote, nothing seems greater than ‘the cause’. If that means dealing with some sexual impropriety internally so that (hopefully) nobody ever finds out, well so be it. After all, if you win that seat on the parish council that’s what really maters. Right?
The Mike Hancock case is a perfect example. So scared were Portsmouth Lib Dems of losing an election winning asset that they hoped all the accusations that swirled around him would just disappear. It’s not the way for a responsible political party to behave.
The whole thing was dealt with at a local level too, so much so that it the Lib Dem high command only found out about the Council report into him when it was leaked to the Guido Fawkes website.
A well place source has revealed that Lib Dem advisors in Downing Street were scrambled back into the party fold, desperately re-accessing party e-mail accounts to deal with the situation as it broke.
Other stories abound about ambitious young candidates putting their mouth where the money is, determined to get a winnable selection and a well funded campaign. These dalliances were all consensual, but clearly some at senior levels of the Lib Dems were using the fact that they pulled the purse strings as a way to pull.
Much of the party’s murkiness is still hidden behind a wink and nod, and a siege mentality whereby everybody sticks together to deflect criticism. The attitude to the Rennard case is increasingly that this was a man who has served the party, is seriously unwell, and the whole rotten mess should be left alone. Have no doubt that he also knows where all the bodies are buried, and there are plenty of people who fear what he might reveal if questioned under oath.
Everything is now coming to a head, and for the Liberal Democrats, laying back and thinking of England, or at least the next elections, can no longer be an option.