This blog post with not look at the specific allegations but just at how the media are reacting and what priorities they are showing.
I shall state this at the very beginning. Lord Rennard has serious allegations to face about his behaviour. The Liberal Democrats as an organisation also have serious questions to answer about how they dealt with allegations from the women against Lord Rennard. However as it stands Nick Clegg does not face any serious questions despite the weight of media that states that he does. In fact the Telegraph report today actually backs up Nick Clegg’s claim that, ‘my office only received concerns indirectly and anonymously.’
The Telegraph has published a letter that it sent to Jonathan Oates in April of 2010. At this time Mr Oates replied and told him that Nick Clegg was not aware of any allegations against Lord Rennard on the same day. In fact the reply was quite terse. The Telegraph put forward several allegations that they believed Lord Rennard had acted inappropriately towards several women. These women at the time had not gone on the record. It is not clear if these are the same women who have since gone on the record.
The narrative of this story is not about the actual allegations themselves. The media do not give a crap if women were victims of a sex pest. They couldn’t give a monkey’s and that pisses me off greatly. The only thing the media care about is whether Nick Clegg knew and if he did then why didn’t he do anything about it? That is the only story because it holds political weight.
Well let me tell you this Fleet Street (channel four didn’t seem to focus on this in what was a reasonably fair and clearly well researched story) but fleet street need to understand what is important here. Nick Clegg’s knowledge – or lack of – is not the story – the story is whether several women were victims of inappropriate behaviour at the hands of a Lib Dem peer.
The thing is the media can smell blood. They have a story that can take down Nick Clegg. It has the power to crush him and finish his political career. The only problem is they don’t have the evidence to back up their hypothesis and they are desperate to find the smoking gun. They aren’t desperate to find the truth but the smoking gun. There is a distinct difference.
So far they have published a letter from Mr Oates actually stating that Nick Clegg did not know of specific incidents. They claim this proves Nick Clegg was lying when he said he hadn’t heard of any specific complaints regarding Lord Rennard but had heard indirectly and anonymously. Well The Telegraph says that because they sent a letter to someone that wasn’t Clegg with allegations that proves Clegg lied.
Now let us look at this with a clear head. The letter – which can be found on this article gives four encounters where allegations have been made against Lord Rennard. The only problem is they are anonymous and cannot be investigated because quite simply they are anonymous. How are they meant to investigate an incident that happened ‘in 2003 or 2004’ with someone they couldn’t even speak to for example?
You can make allegations against anyone and the moment you do then there will be whispers surrounding that person. No doubt Nick Clegg heard on the grapevine that Lord Rennard had questions to answer but unless someone makes a complaint then how can it be properly investigated?
Now of course the problem is that seemingly people did make complaints and they were not properly investigated and that is where the Liberal Democrats have to look internally at what exactly happened but at this juncture we still have no credible sources that Nick Clegg actively knew of any specific incident involving Lord Rennard and inappropriate behaviour against women. What we have is a letter that states he didn’t know know anything, an anonymous comment in a personal Facebook chat from 2009 of a victim saying she believed Nick Clegg knew and another anonymous official who said the following in 2009 and apparently stands by his comments today:
“I was at an event with Nick Clegg and said, ‘Nick, you need to know that we have print journalists, which I believe were, I think the Telegraph were chasing it, the Mail was chasing it and the News of the World was chasing it.’
“I said, ‘I believe there are three papers that are actively pursuing the Rennard story’ and he knew exactly what I meant, there was no ‘what are you talking about?’
“As the party leader he knew exactly what I meant when I said it to him. He said, ‘Thank you very much, I will go and deal with it.’ And again nothing happened.”
Those quotes are from this story in The Telegraph.
Now I’m trying to see where in these quotes Nick Clegg said that he knew of specific allegations against Lord Rennard. Could it just be more gossip that he had heard? The quotes – as the Italian pizza maker Luigi in The Simpsons would say – they prove nothing.
So far all we have are anonymous people stating that they thought Nick Clegg knew. That is it. However the media – and specifically the right-wing media have decided that anonymous sources – single anonymous sources – without any evidence and just on their beliefs and feelings are actually credible enough to write a story and state it as fact. Some might question the timing – certainly considering they have been sitting on it for years – but I don’t.
What I’d like to see is an investigation to find out what happened between Lord Rennard and these women. That is the most important thing. What I’d like to see is for one of these women to go to the police with complaints to initiate a police investigation. However sadly the media’s fixation with the possibility of taking down a senior politican – certainly one they don’t like – will always overshadow the real issue that potentially there was a sexual predator working from a position of power high within the Liberal Democrats.
That is the biggest story and not whether Nick Clegg knew or not. So I throw down the gauntlet to fleet street (as if they read nor care about me) but if they have any courage of their convictions they’ll get busy getting to the bottom of the allegations and speaking to the women who have made these claims and try and get them to go to the police. That would be progress and that would be a worthwhile use of time.
Remember at the moment they are only allegations as well – people should remember that. I would say the media should remember that but they don’t care and Lord Rennard’s name is only ever said in passing to set up why Nick Clegg is all sorts of evil and a liar. It is a sad state of affairs that these allegations are now just the back story – certainly when the story now front and centre has nothing going for it (as yet) but heck that is how the media works – sexual predators are not the story when you can get a bigger fish to fry who is accused of knowing about allegations and not stopping the predator.
I saw it with the Jerry Sandusky case. The fact he was an evil monster who sexual molested boys for at least over a decade was merely the last line in the story. The fact that Joe Paterno may have known and not found a way to put a stop to it. Now that is a story that kept the American press busy for weeks and months.
The fact that the monster basically got a pass in the media really got to me. In this case the fact that Nick Clegg’s reputation is being tarnished in the media every day with flimsy facts in an attempt to prove their hypothesis whilst the actual alleged monster is merely an afterthought really really hacks me off as well.