Nick Clegg under pressure over alleged Rennard cover-up

Touch-feely Lib Dems need to check their procedures whether Rennard did anything ‘inappropriate' or not

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:31 ON Fri 22 Feb 2013

NICK CLEGG, the Liberal Democrat leader, is under pressure to return to the UK from a half-term family break in Spain to get a grip of his party after last night's Channel Four News special on Lord Rennard.

The problem for Clegg is not just the claims by a string of women that Rennard touched them inappropriately and propositioned them – claims the peer refutes - but the allegation that senior members of the party then tried to cover up the women's complaints.

Rennard is the former chief executive of the party and widely credited with the Lib Dems' electoral success over the past 20 years.

His lawyers have issued a statement saying the peer received no complaints in his 27 years with the party and that he regards the C4 News report as "a total distortion of his character".

Nevertheless, he will temporarily "stand aside" from the Lib Dems in the Lords to avoid "embarrassment" to the party.

Meanwhile, party president Tim Farron will examine whether there was a cover-up and whether the party needs to rethink how it handles allegations of harassment. This is the party of touchy-feely politics [no jokes] and it doesn't look good if its own staff feel their rights are abused.

At least one of the women interviewed by C4 News presenter Cathy Newman said she had complained to the party's chief whip and heard nothing back.

Bridget Harris, a former special adviser to Nick Clegg, told Newman that in a hotel bar at a party conference, the peer repeatedly touched her legs without permission.

"I had to physically move away from him," she claimed. "He suggested that we take our coffees upstairs to his room."

Even before last night's broadcast, some Lib Dems were questioning why Clegg was joining his wife and children in Spain this week rather than campaigning in the 28 February by-election in Eastleigh, where the party is desperate to hang on to the seat vacated by the disgraced Chris Huhne.

Maybe Clegg was confident of the outcome, but it was a pretty odd choice. It looks even odder now ·