Lord Rennard holding court at a whisky reception in 2008 (photo via the Lib Dems)
If you’re an equal fan of comedy and of politics, as I am, then this week has been dreamy, and all because we have a party called the Liberal Democrats. Actually, if I didn’t laugh at them I’d probably cry. They might be a party of effete old men with limp handshakes and limper cocks, but they’re also a party of effete old men with limp handshakes and limper cocks who are in government.
I’m still not quite sure how that happened, given that they got fewer votes than the Labour Party. Yes, I know – it was a hung parliament, so they joined the Tories to swing them the overall majority they lacked, and the government is a coalition. But it does still feel as if the Lib Dems – who always come trailing in last when there’s an outright winner – have got about as much democratic right to be in charge of the country as I have. And my cock is strong. But enough of my cock.
Let us, instead, examine the cock of Lord Rennard, which has been inspiring him, allegedly, to sexually harass women in his party. You might never have heard of him before the shit went hurtling into his fan, but Lord Rennard was the Chief Executive of the party for some time. If he did commit those crimes, he got away with them because old men like that held all the power for so long. Wonderfully, things are changing. It seems like an everyday occurrence now that the people of Great Britain are bravely going public about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of public figures – and the institutions responsible are learning to tackle it with justice and compassion. The BBC are learning how to deal with it. The police are learning how to deal with it. Even Catholic boarding schools are learning how to deal with it.
But the Lib Dems, it transpires, are not learning how to deal with it. Rather, they are burying their heads in the sand like asthmatic ostriches who have just seen a fag machine walk into the room. Yesterday, a BBC reporter asked Nick Clegg – who is not only the party leader, but our deputy prime minister – if he had spoken to Lord Rennard at all recently. Nope. He had not. Another reporter, Cathy Newman from Channel 4, has spent so many months trying to get Nick Clegg to address these claims that she gave up doing it through the journalistic route, instead choosing to phone up his "Call Clegg" radio show and pretend she was called “Cathy from Dulwich”. (Yes, our deputy prime minister has a weekly radio show called "Call Clegg". Look – here’s the podcast!)
Newsnight said on Monday that they’d asked for a senior Lib Dem to come on and talk about what was going on in the party, and a rep promised to find somebody. But, eight hours later, they still hadn't. Lord Rennard himself has now made one of those public apologies where you don’t actually say sorry at all, or really admit that you’ve done anything wrong whatsoever, because if you admit liability they might sue you, or tell your mum. He’s just sort of bum-shuffled around the subject like a toddler on the naughty step, while also – and this bit is quite remarkable – letting it be known that he has recently been contemplating self-harm. This revelation was somehow so typically, depressingly Lib Dem: "The nasty people who say I harmed their bodies are making me harm my own! The suffering flesh here is mine!"
Rennard is refusing to resign and his party want to kick him out, but then he's threatened to sue them for daring to suspend him, so everyone’s in a tizzy and all because a grown man won’t say sorry. It’s not unlike when Nick Clegg finally got the power he'd been craving for so long and promptly let go of anything his party had ever promised to do. People voted Lib Dem for a small number of reasons, a principal one being free higher education. Yet, with the coalition government came massive hikes in university fees, making it dramatically more expensive than ever before. "Those nasty Tories did it!" came the cry from the coalition's unhappier partners, even though they had, it turns out, long known that they were never going to fulfil that particular manifesto.
Then there’s the comedy of Chris Huhne, a Lib Dem MP who became a government minister in 2010 and got his wife to suffer his speeding tickets for him before they both ended up in jail. It’s the buck-shifting, the spinelessness all over again – and it took a fabulous new turn last week, as new court evidence suggested that Huhne used to go to work at the European Parliament in Brussels, shag about, then come home and give his wife crabs. And not just any old crabs. EURO-CRABS!
In fact, the only Lib Dem who seems able to speak clearly on the subject of anything at all is Bridget Harris, who is one of the very women who says she was molested. (There are 11 of these women at the current count.) Bridget Harris recently quit as special adviser to Nick Clegg, so she was up there in the heart of government, seeing first-hand just what makes our nation’s parliament, the mother of democracies, so great.
"You go into politics and you accept the notion of a collective agreement for the greater good," she said. "After 15 years working in the Lib Dems, I realised there's no greater good, just everyone doing a shit job."
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Previously – We're All Just Desperate to Be Mad