Lord Rennard starts legal action against Lib Dem suspension
Peer's move to seek injunction lifting his suspension could lead to 'blood bath', say experts
Lord Rennard has begun legal procedings to lift his suspension from the Liberal Democrats. The peer was suspended after he refused to apologise to female activists who accused him of sexual harrassment, allegations he strongly denies, Sky News reports
The party's former chief executive, accused of groping several women, warned last night that he might sue the party after he was suspended. He now appears to have made good on that threat, Sky News said.
Earlier, the BBC said that Lord Rennard would seek an injunction to "lift his suspension" from the Lib Dems. Sources told the BBC that the ensuing legal battle could lead "to a blood bath, the like of which the party has not seen before".
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg had been intending to call Lord Rennard's "bluff" over his threat of legal action, the Daily Telegraph reports. Sources close to Clegg told the paper that he believed it was vital the party followed "due process" in relation to the dispute and had dismissed suggestions from allies of Lord Rennard that a professional mediator should be called in to hold talks between the peer and his alleged victims.
An internal investigation led by senior barrister Alistair Webster concluded the allegations against Lord Rennard could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt, but said the evidence of the four women who lodged complaints was "broadly credible".
Webster and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg urged the peer to apologise, but Rennard has refused to say sorry. Last night the party suspended Rennard and launched an investigation into whether he has brought it into disrepute by refusing to apologise. Meanwhile, some of the women involved are threatening to sue Rennard.
Lib Dem peer Lord Greaves claimed the party faced a "huge crisis" and required the kind of formal "peace and reconciliation process" needed in the Northern Ireland Troubles and Apartheid in South Africa.
He described the situation as a "nightmare" and told BBC Newsnight that if the issues were not solved, the row is "going to produce fault lines and schisms in the party which will last for years".
The Rennard affair has been "handled poorly" by the Deputy Prime Minister, says The Times. "Even [Clegg] cannot look back over these recent events and conclude that they have done anything other than made his party look shambolic, his allies unappetising and his leadership weak," says an editorial in the paper.
It is hard not to wonder what the hell is going on at the highest level of the party, says Joan Smith in The Independent. But the real reason this affair is so damaging is the public perception that it speaks volumes about the Lib Dems and gender, she says.
For a party with all-male public faces, "Clegg's bigger problem, bigger even than the gasp-making Rennard row, is how to persuade voters that the party isn't an old-fashioned men's club which merely pays lip service to equality," says Smith.
"The party is in disrepute," says Polly Toynbee in The Guardian. "Rennard's reputation is shot, but his four women accusers stand disbelieved, with their claims not 'beyond reasonable doubt'. With QC Alistair Webster's report being secret, all we are left with is the impression that one man's evidence seems to have carried more weight than four women complainants, sharia style."
But elsewhere in The Times, Rachel Sylvester says the Rennard affair has in fact revealed how much social attitudes have changed in recent times. "Sexism is front-page news in a way that would have seemed impossible not that long ago," she says. "Slowly but surely, the tide is turning."