Jan 22 2014
Nick Clegg has insisted he will not back down over demands for Lord Rennard to apologise in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
Amid warnings that a legal battle could tear the Liberal Democrats apart, the Deputy Prime Minister admitted his handling of the situation had not been ideal.
But he said he had to demand that the former party chief executive says sorry - even if only for causing "inadvertent" distress to women.
Speaking during his weekly phone-in on LBC radio, Mr Clegg stressed that the conclusions of an independent report into the situation had to be implemented.
"Just imagine if we had done anything else," he said.
"Just imagine if Alistair Webster (QC) had recommended that an apology should be issued and I came out and said 'Thank you very much, we will file away the report, and by the way, none of the recommendations need to be accepted or adhered to'.
"There would have quite rightly been outrage."
He went on: "It is messy. It is difficult to confront the past and turn a page and introduce a new culture in any organisation, particularly a political party - quite rightly under remorseless scrutiny.
"But there is no way round my view that I want people in my party, the party I lead, to treat each other with respect, with civility, with dignity.
"Everybody should do that, but there is a special responsibility, a special burden of responsibility, on people who are in positions of power to do just that."
Lib Dem tensions over the row have been ratcheting up, with ex-leader Lord Steel joining calls for the threat of expulsion to be lifted from Lord Rennard.
Mr Webster's inquiry found the allegations against the peer could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt but said there was broadly credible evidence that women had been caused distress.
The former election supremo has been suspended from the party pending a disciplinary hearing into whether his refusal to apologise is bringing it into disrepute.
He continues to deny any wrongdoing and is considering seeking an injunction to halt the process.
Lib Dem peers are due to meet later, with significant numbers thought to be sympathetic to Lord Rennard's position.
But Mr Clegg said Lord Rennard was not acting in his own best interests in refusing to say sorry, arguing it was the "human thing" to do even where distress had been caused "inadvertently".
"I don't think that is fair to the process, I don't think that is fair to the women concerned and in the long run I don't think, curiously enough, it is fair to Lord Rennard because this is a man who gave his life to the party...
"The fact that he is refusing to apologise is, from his point of view ,overshadowing all those achievements."
Mr Clegg conceded that the way the allegations were handled when they surfaced last year " was not great, was not ideal".
Asked if that had happened on his watch, the Deputy Prime Minister replied: "Yes."
He signalled that he was not happy with the party's disciplinary rules, which require a criminal standard of proof rather than the more commonly used civil standard.
"We probably need to revisit whether that is the right burden of proof to use," he said. "The president of the party, Tim Farron will be doing that."