After Matthew Oakeshott jumped from the increasingly beleaguered Lib Dem ship following his lack of candour over opinion polls – and his repeated calls for the party to change leader – one might have thought that was quite enough for Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon to digest in one week. But that thought was shown to be misplaced, as back came another of the party’s worst nightmares.
Yes, they told you to Piss Off
One form of bad behaviour was substituted for another in the electorate’s mind, as Chris Rennard, master strategist and tactician but also alleged serial harasser of female party activists, decided that, despite not wanting to apologise when he was asked to do so, it was now time to say sorry, despite not having been asked to do so while his party was encountering its latest little local difficulty.
Rennard’s statement, directed to Bridget Harris, Alison Goldsworthy, Alison Smith and Susan Gasczak, told that “He hereby expresses his regret for any harm or embarrassment caused to them or anything which made them feel uncomfortable ... Lord Rennard wishes to make it absolutely clear that it was never his intention to cause distress or concern to them by anything that he ever said or did”.
And, as the man said, there’s more: “He also hopes that they will accept that the events of the last 14 months have been a most unhappy experience for him, his family and friends and for the party”. Yeah, right: “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” revisited. But the really jaw-dropping moment came with Rennard’s coded description of what he had been accused of doing.
As the Guardian put it, “The statement said Rennard recognised that he may have encroached upon ‘personal space’ and would ‘therefore like to apologise sincerely for any such intrusion and assure them that this would have been inadvertent’”. I’d not seen “groping” described as “encroachment upon personal space” before. And there is only one place this expression is going.
That is to join the ever-lengthening list of code-speak on which publications like Private Eye thrive. So, joining “Overtired” [pissed], “Ugandan discussions” [sex] and “Glenda” [appallingly overrated female pundit], will soon be “encroachment upon personal space”, as already practiced by the likes of “Shagger” Prescott, and now, by his own admission (allegedly) Chris Rennard.
Meanwhile, back at the Lib Dem ranch, Ms Gasczak is in no doubt that Rennard, who is at present suspended from the party, should not be let back in: “We really have got to draw a line under this. The only way to do that is actually to say, ‘Lord Rennard, it's time to go’”. Alison Goldsworthy has also called for his expulsion. So, having chosen his moment to bury his bad news, he may be on his way.
Chris Rennard and the Lib Dems were for a time, but not for all time.