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'Nothing to hide' on Rennard: Clegg
Nick Clegg has insisted that he has "got nothing to hide" over the way he dealt with concerns raised over alleged inappropriate behaviour by the Liberal Democrats' former chief executive, Lord Rennard.
The Deputy Prime Minister faces questions over a cover-up after he yesterday admitted knowing five years ago about claims of alleged sexual harassment by the peer.
Mr Clegg said that he "didn't use the word 'screwed up'" about the way the party had handled the incident - a description used by the party's president, Tim Farron, on Monday morning. But he said he "suspected" the inquiries he has ordered into the allegations would show party procedures were flawed.
He told BBC Radio Solent: "I totally understand people have got lots and lots of questions but I hope I have given a full, frank, honest account. I have got nothing to hide, the party has nothing to hide. We have now got to listen to the women who feel they weren't properly listened to and get to the truth and that is what we will do."
Mr Farron acknowledged that the party had "screwed this up" and failed in its duty of care. He said a "completely full and open inquiry into how we got this wrong" was under way and insisted that he had heard only a "general rumour" before the complaints were broadcast. "The one thing I probably can tell you without going through due process is that we screwed this up as a party," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. "There are individuals out there who we had a duty of care towards and we did not fulfil that duty of care. That is something that we have to learn from, apologise for and make sure it never happens again."
Asked when he first heard of allegations against Lord Rennard, he said: "A general rumour I heard a year or so ago but no specifics, not even who or what or when or anything. In my job you come across quite a lot of gossip and it is difficult to know how you separate out general unspecific gossip from specific complaints. That is why we, as a party, with independent help and with real rigour, are now going to look at ourselves. My job as party president is not to defend the Liberal Democrats in this, in fact quite the opposite: it is to find out what happened and ensure these women get justice because I'm afraid they are the people who have been lost in... all the political furore." Asked if he believed Conservatives were trying to whip up the controversy, he said: "They have to answer for that. All I can do is make sure I deal with the real job at hand."
Mr Clegg said the party had confronted Lord Rennard with the concerns, which had been made anonymously, and he strenuously denied them. The Lib Dem leader said he did not know that a woman he worked closely with had made claims about the peer until the Channel 4 investigation. He added: "I've got absolutely nothing to hide, why would I? I happen to know some of these women very well. One of them worked for me. I spoke to her just last night. She never, ever said anything about this until now. I know her well enough and I'm actually very fond of her so I feel for her and I want us to do, of course, the right thing, which we will do by these investigations. The problem, as I explained yesterday, is that until last week no very specific allegations were put to me. We acted on general concerns which had been expressed some time ago but, of course, now that those general concerns have evolved into specific allegations, we can act and we will."
David Cameron's official spokesman said that the Prime Minister regarded all forms of harassment as "unacceptable". But the spokesman declined to comment directly on the allegations against Lord Rennard. Asked about the Rennard affair at a daily Westminster press briefing, the PM's spokesman said: "I am not going to get into the allegations that have been reported in the press in recent days. I would simply make a general point that of course harassment of all kinds is unacceptable. With regard to the current series of allegations, that is a matter for the Liberal Democrat party." Asked if Mr Cameron had full confidence in Mr Clegg and in Ms Swinson, the spokesman replied: "He does."
The Daily Telegraph reported that it had asked Mr Clegg's chief of staff, Jonny Oates, about detailed allegations relating to Lord Rennard as early as 2010.
The paper published on its website an exchange of emails, in which Mr Oates - at the time Liberal Democrat director of electoral communications - denied that Mr Clegg had been made aware of the allegations or had ordered an investigation into them. An email sent by the Telegraph to Mr Oates in April 2010 listed five allegations, one of which was blacked out when the correspondence was published on the website. The message gave dates and locations for the alleged inappropriate acts and made clear that the newspaper knew the identities of four of the women involved. The email also suggested that Ms Swinson and Mr Alexander had been involved in investigations into Lord Rennard's alleged conduct. However, Mr Oates responded in April 2010 by saying: "It is untrue to state that Mr Clegg was made aware of the incidents you allege. Given this fact, it is obviously untrue to state that Mr Clegg asked Jo Swinson or anyone else to carry out an investigation into the incidents that you allege."