Nick Clegg has given interview to BBC Radio Solent’s Tristan Pascoe in which he laments the state of his party, and the under-representation of women in politics. The second point is something that is true of all the parties, and I agree with him that more can be done. However, the state of his party is something he is responsible for directly, but has done nothing much about.
Pascoe put the situation in Portsmouth with Cllr Eleanor Scott and Mike Hancock to Clegg, asking him if it’s fair that Scott has quit the party while Hancock and Rennard are merely suspended. Clegg’s response followed his usual evasive formula:
“I’m very clear I don’t think Mike Hancock has got any future in the Liberal Democrats. As you know, there are still disciplinary procedures ongoing in the Chris Rennard case and I don’t want to second-guess that.”
That’s an interesting choice of phrase, because it highlights that there is no Lib Dem disciplinary process in hand against Mike Hancock. None at all. He has admitted behaving in a totally unacceptable manner, but the Lib Dems have never taken formal proceedings against him at any point.
Hancock had a meeting with the Lib Dem Chief Whip, after which he resigned the whip at Westminster; he wasn’t sacked. He remained a Lib Dem councillor in Portsmouth, and when the Lib Dem council group first met to consider his case it took them two meetings to kick him out of the group. But even then, he was only suspended. After they had kicked him out of the council group, and even after Hancock’s later admission of his revolting behaviour, Portsmouth Lib Dems have failed to go further. On the contrary, they have defended him, and some of them even campaigned for Hancock when he stood as an Independent at the council elections in May. That in itself is a breach of Lib Dem rules which the party locally has done nothing about, even though it involves another Lib Dem councillor, Cllr Andrewes.
Despite this, Clegg said:
“When someone raises serious issues, we make sure that they are properly investigated”.
Interesting choice of phrase again, given what we know about the “investigation” so far by a close associate of Gerald Vernon-Jackson into the party he leads locally. There has been no proper investigation. Clegg ploughed on:
“In the case of the allegations of untoward behaviour and bullying in the Portsmouth Council group, we have had someone come to interview a whole range of people, and they’ll be coming forward with a report soon enough”
We already know what Cllr Pinnock is going to say, because Portsmouth Lib Dem chairman Simon Todd tweeted last week that she had exonerated the local party.
Independent review confirms no bullying in Portsmouth Liberal Democrat party and council group
— Simon Dodd (@SJDodd13) July 1, 2014
Cllr Pinnock has had every opportunity to set the record straight if she is unhappy with Mr Todd’s statement, and hasn’t queried it in any way. So I think we can take it that her report will be the sort of whitewash I and others have predicted. It’s very strange that it takes so long, given that the outcome has been leaked, for the actual report to get back to the national leadership. It’s in keeping with the dilatory attitude of the Lib Dems generally to abuse concerns, but it leaves them looking awfully lax in the real world.
Clegg says the Lib Dems have to be “honest and candid about where those failings are, and then make sure that people are held to account”. When does that bit start then, Nick? All he’s done is call on Hancock to resign. You’ll notice in that article from The News that Clegg again uses the “no future” catchphrase. He must have listened to the Sex Pistols a lot in his youth.
Clegg refers to just one inquiry, and from what he says about it having already happened, he can only mean Cllr Pinnock’s one. But Eleanor Scott was promised a proper inquiry by Tim Farron, led at national level, into the accusations of misconduct in Portsmouth. What is happening to that? I suspect that the Lib Dem leadership will try to pretend there is no basis for it to take place now, since Cllr Scott has left the party.
The Lib Dem rules on these things are a mess, and the party structure is like a badly-designed wedding cake, with layer upon layer wobbling around without much seeming to hold it all up. I’ll explain how this works in a blog in the near future, which will be forensic and, I warn you now, probably very boring to the casual reader.
The audio of the Clegg interview is below, and it’s worth listening to Jessica Parker’s analysis of it afterward. It’s not just me stirring the pot when it comes to the inherent weakness of sending Kath Pinnock down to investigate her mates.
There was a second part to Tristan Pascoe’s interview which went over the wider culture of the Lib Dem party’s relations with women. Again, the audio is below. Clegg sounds utterly deluded about the state of his party.
I have two observations to make on that second bit of interview. If Clegg is concerned about the under-representation of women at Westminster, why is he so unconcerned about the treatment of women at the grass-roots of the Lib Dem party? And does Vikki Slade, the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate who was with Clegg yesterday, still think that the fuss over Hancock and misconduct in Portsmouth is a “distraction” as she said on Radio Solent in January:
“It’s a distraction, it’s not really what we want…it’s not just politics these things happen [in]”
Not just politics, no, but when it does happen in politics at the moment, it seems to be unhealthily concentrated in the Lib Dem party. Stop denying it, end the cover-ups, and order a proper independent investigation. Nobody will believe or trust Nick Clegg or the Lib Dems on this issue until they do.