The Lib Dem’s present shambles over Lord Rennard is the direct result of a botched attempt to fudge the issue of the sexual harassment allegations against this powerful and influential figure whose behaviour has been covered up by the leadership for years.
The inquiry led by Alistair Webster QC created total confusion – and gave Rennard and his supporters plausible grounds for crying ‘foul’ – by concluding that the case against Rennard was unproven, and yet also calling upon him to apologise in the light of “broadly credible” claims against him by 11 women.
Crucially, Webster’s report (though it hasn’t been seen by Rennard, or indeed Clegg, due apparently, to mysterious “data protection” concerns) seems to have blurred and confused two distinct standards of proof: Webster says the case against Rennard does not satisfy the “beyond reasonable doubt” (ie being at least 99% sure of guilt) standard required for criminal cases, and which is also, it seems, required before disciplinary action can be taken under the Lib Dem’s rules. But Rennard’s supporter and legal adviser Lord Carlile QC claims that Webster told him that even the civil “balance of probability” standard of proof could not be met. This seems incredible, given Webster’s statement that in his opinion “the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible.” Remember, that the “balance of probability” test (ie being 51% sure of someone’s guilt) is considered sufficient for an employer to dismiss an employee for gross misconduct and is the test that employment tribunals apply when considering cases.
It turns out that what Webster meant was that he didn’t think there was a 51% chance of satisfying the “beyond reasonable doubt” test, which is, of course, not what the “balance of probability” test means – something that both Webster QC and Carlile QC must surely understand.
With Rennard threatening legal action, 100 women members signing a letter demanding “no apology, no whip” and the party split on generational lines, the Lib Dems are well and truly in the shit over this. Not only has their claim to be a party that takes equality seriously been destroyed: they’ve shown themselves to be a total shower who can’t even organise an effective fudge.