Chris Rennard, Baron Rennard

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The Lord Rennard[1]
MBE[1]
Chris Rennard 01.jpg
Chief Executive of the
Liberal Democrat Party
In office
2003–2009
Preceded by Vacant
Succeeded by Chris Fox
Personal details
Born Christopher John Rennard
(1960-07-08) 8 July 1960 (age 54)
Liverpool, England
Political party Liberal Democrat
Independent (January 2014-August 2014)

Christopher John Rennard, Baron Rennard (born 8 July 1960),[2] is a British life peer in the House of Lords, suspended in January 2014 from membership of the Liberal Democrats. He was appointed in December 2010 to chair a commission on the Big Society on behalf of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO).

Education and early career[edit]

Rennard was educated at the Liverpool Blue Coat School[3] and gained a BA Hons Social Studies (1982) from University of Liverpool.[4] From the age of 12, Rennard was an active member of the Liberal Party. He began his political activism in Liverpool in the late 1970s where he chaired the University Liberals and Social Democrats. The Liberal Party's agent Trevor Jones, had a major influence on him. Rennard was Deputy Chair of the Liverpool Liberal Party and organised many of the party's successful election campaigns. His first successful parliamentary by-election campaign was Liverpool Edge Hill by-election in March 1979 at which the party's candidate was David Alton; Rennard was Alton's agent for the Liverpool Mossley Hill constituency in 1983 (after boundary changes) and helped to achieve a 14% swing against the Conservatives.[5]

In 1984, he became one of the party's national Area Agents based in Leicester when the party won its first seats there for over 20 years. He was a key member of many of the Liberal/Alliance by-election campaign teams including West Derbyshire by-election, 1986, and Greenwich by-election, 1987. He was a member of the standing committee of ALC (Association of Liberal Councillors) and wrote many of the party's publications on election campaigning and party organisation.

National positions[edit]

In 1989, Rennard was appointed as Director of Campaigns and Elections for the Liberal Democrats. He married Ann McTegart[6] (whom he had met when they were both Liberal Party agents in Merseyside in the 1980s) and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1989 New Year Honours.[7]

In the general election of 1997 he oversaw the party's target-seat campaign, which resulted in the Liberal Democrats more than doubling its number of MPs from 18 to 46. In 2001 and 2005, with Tim Razzall (Baron Razzall) as Campaign Chair, and Charles Kennedy as Leader, he also directed the Liberal Democrats' general-election campaigns, which further increased the number of Lib Dem MPs to 52 and 62.

He was the party's Chief Executive between 2003 and 2009. During his employment with the Liberal Democrats at a national level he was credited with masterminding 12 parliamentary by-election wins for the party, out of 78 by-elections held between 1988 and 2009 (a success rate of 15%). Ten of those victories were gains; two others were holds. A by-election in Christchurch in Dorset during July 1993 saw the Liberal Democrats replace the Conservative Party in the seat by the largest swing against any UK government since 1918.[8]

Former party leader Charles Kennedy has described Rennard as "a quite extraordinary figure in British politics", while his predecessor Paddy Ashdown praised Rennard as "a formidable and widely-respected practitioner of political campaigning across all parties".[9] Iain Dale said in an interview in Total Politics (June 2011) that Rennard "is probably the most formidable and feared political campaigner of the last 20 years. It was he who invented the concept of "pavement politics".[10]

Concerning the 2001 general election, one frontbench Lib Dem is reported as saying:

"Last time people didn't follow Chris [Rennard's] instructions and the difference between those who did and who didn't – like in the Isle of Wight [which the party lost] – was very clear. The message got through."[11]

Rennard is credited with pioneering the successful Lib Dem election strategy of claiming narrow majorities when in second or even third place and ruthlessly squeezing third party votes in Tory – Lib Dem and Labour – Lib Dem marginals.

Later posts[edit]

Rennard served as the Liberal Democrats Chief Executive from 2003 to 2009 during which time he was in overall charge of the party's election campaigns and organisation. His campaigns team continued to build the party's successes through by-elections such as Brent East by-election, 2003, Leicester South by-election, 2004, and Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, 2006, taking the Liberal Democrats to 63 MPs. He chaired the Liberal Democrat general election campaign between summer 2006 and summer 2009 when he stood down as Chief Executive of the Party.

Rennard announced that he would be standing down as chief executive of the Liberal Democrats in May 2009.[12] He indicated that he had discussed standing down some time earlier with the party leader, Nick Clegg, and that this was for family and health reasons, saying that he had "struggled to maintain good diabetic control with the rigours of a very demanding lifestyle".

Since relinquishing the full-time position, Chris Rennard has continued to contribute to party strategy. He has been appointed to Chair a Commission on Big Society set up by the ACEVO to articulate a civil society vision of what charities want to achieve through the Big Society agenda. Lord Rennard is also a trustee of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), and a member of the Advisory Board of the Magna Carta Institute Brunel University and of the Advisory Council of 'Yes to Fairer Votes'.

Lord Rennard has been appointed a Vice President of the Local Government Association (LGA).

House of Lords[edit]

Rennard was created a life peer on 21 July 1999 as Baron Rennard, of Wavertree in the County of Merseyside,[13] and was introduced in the House of Lords on 27 July 1999,[14] where he originally sat on the Liberal Democrat benches. He is Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Diabetes and a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.

Lord Rennard is a frequent contributor in the House of Lords. He concentrates on Constitutional Affairs, Localism issues and health matters related to his interests in diabetes and the cessation of smoking.

Rennard was among a group of Parliamentarians whose expense claims came under scrutiny in May 2009. The allegations were investigated by the Clerk of the Parliaments Michael Pownall following a complaint by the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics.[15] Pownall's ruling did not uphold any of the complaint. Lord Rennard's case was the first of a number of similarly controversial complaints against several peers to be resolved.

Allegations of sexual harassment[edit]

On 21 February 2013 Channel 4 News ran a report on Lord Rennard, alleging a history of sexual harassment during his time as an official of the party.[16] He has strongly denied the allegations.[17]

The earliest claims about Rennard from within the Liberal Democrats go back to 2007 when two women met Paul Burstow, then the party's chief whip in the Commons, to raise the issue with him.[18] In a February 2013 statement shortly after Channel 4 News had broken the story, Nick Clegg wrote that claims about the improper conduct of Lord Rennard had been brought to his attention in 2008, but Rennard had denied any wrongdoing when challenged.[19] The "indirect and non-specific concerns" he had been told about meant that he could take no further action,[19] but his chief of staff at the time Danny Alexander had warned Rennard that the alleged behaviour would be "wholly unacceptable".[20] A subsequent independent report in June 2013 by Helena Morrissey concerning Clegg's conduct in 2008 concluded that he should have ordered an independent inquiry into Rennard's alleged behaviour at that time.[21]

On 23 April, the Metropolitan Police announced they were investigating Lord Rennard into allegations of sexual harassment, seeking corroborating evidence and asking for any witnesses to come forward.[22] On 26 September 2013, the Metropolitan Police announced they had dropped the investigation as they had found "insufficient evidence".[23]

The Liberal Democrat party conducted an internal inquiry, chaired by Alistair Webster QC. On 15 January 2014, the inquiry concluded that there was broadly credible evidence of "behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants". It was "unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way".[24]

In response, the president of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron asked Lord Rennard to apologise to the women involved. It was reported in The Daily Telegraph that Nick Clegg had stated that "it is right that Chris Rennard has been asked in this report to apologise, to reflect on his behaviour." Clegg went on to state that Rennard would not be "playing any role in my general election plans for the campaign in 2015." The Telegraph further reported that Clegg had been accused, by the alleged victims of Rennard, of "cowardice" for his position on the matter.[25]

On 20 January 2014 Rennard was suspended from the Liberal Democrats, after he refused to apologise over the claims. He stated that he may take legal action against the party.[26] Rennard's suspension will last 14 weeks while the party investigates whether it has been brought into disrepute by Rennard's refusal to apologise "for causing distress to a number of women".[27] Rennard is seeking legal advice over whether the Liberal Democrats have correctly followed their procedures, and at least one of the women involved is considering a civil action.[27]

A statement was issued by Rennard on 21 August 2014: "All allegations made about Lord Rennard have now been investigated thoroughly. This included a seven month investigation by specially trained officers of the Metropolitan Police. The police decided that there could be no charges and did not even a send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service. In addition, there was a lengthy investigation by independent QC Alistair Webster. He also concluded that there was insufficient evidence even to proceed to a disciplinary hearing. The Liberal Democrat Party has now dealt with all the allegations and the matter is closed. We must advise anyone against publishing or broadcasting defamatory remarks. Accusations that were rejected by both the Metropolitan Police and an independent QC would be treated as such."[28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Lord Rennard". UK Parliament. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Westminster Parliamentary Record. "Westminster Parliamentary Record". Publications.parliament.uk. 
  3. ^ Hansard, House of Lords. "House of Lords Minutes of Proceedings, 9th January 2003". Publications.parliament.uk. 
  4. ^ University of Liverpool. "University of Liverpool Events, 6th July 2012". 
  5. ^ Iain Dale interview with Lord Rennard. "Iain Dale interview with Lord Rennard". 
  6. ^ The Peerage. "The Peerage". 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 51578. p. 15. 31 December 1988.
  8. ^ "Top Ten Lib Dem 'breakthrough moments'". Epolitix.com. 24 April 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Paddy Ashdown, The Ashdown Diaries: Volume One, 1988-1997 (Penguin, London, 2000) p.64
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ Branigan, Tania (8 April 2005). "Kennedy launches big push for 70-plus seats". The Guardian (London). 
  12. ^ "Chris Rennard Personal Letter to Members". [dead link]
  13. ^ The London Gazette: no. 55564. p. 8076. 27 July 1999.
  14. ^ Minute Office, House of Lords. "House of Lords Minutes of Proceedings, 27 July 1999". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  15. ^ "Complaint against Lord Rennard". www.parliament.uk. House of Lords. 20 October 2009. Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  16. ^ Newman, Cathy (21 February 2013). "Lib Dems allegations of sexual impropriety". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  17. ^ "Lord Rennard denies sexual impropriety claim". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  18. ^ Rowena Mason "Timelime of the Lord Rennard sexual harassment allegations", telegraph.co.uk, 12 June 2013
  19. ^ a b "Clegg aware of 'concerns' about Lord Rennard", Channel 4 News, 24 February 2013
  20. ^ Juliette Jowit and Steven Morris "Nick Clegg admits he heard of Rennard 'concerns' in 2008", The Guardian, 24 February 2013
  21. ^ Rowena Mason "Nick Clegg 'should have ordered Rennard sex harassment inquiry after 2008 warnings'", telegraph.co.uk, 12 June 2013
  22. ^ "Met Police Formally Investigate Lord Rennard". http://news.sky.com. Sky News. 23 April 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Syal, Rajeev (26 September 2013). "Police drop Lord Rennard sexual misconduct inquiry". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  24. ^ Ross Hawkins (15 January 2014). "BBC News - No action against Lib Dem Rennard over sex harassment claims". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  25. ^ "Nick Clegg accused of 'cover up' and 'cowardice' as Lord Rennard is cleared". Daily Telegraph. 15 January 2014. 
  26. ^ "Lord Rennard suspended from the Lib Dems amid apology row". Bbc.co.uk. 16 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  27. ^ a b "Rennard may take legal action over Lib Dem suspension", BBC News, 21 January 2014
  28. ^ Statement from Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat Voice, 21 August 2014 Accessed 22 August 2014

External links[edit]

  • Profile From The Guardian, July 2004.
  • Interview with Lord Rennard [2] From Third Sector February 2011
  • Article on the AV Referendum [3] From The Guardian March 2011
  • In depth interview with Lord Rennard for Civil Society [4]
  • In conversation with Iain Dale for Total Politics [5] June 2011
  • Lord Rennard's article about the Big Society [6] June 2011
  • The They Work For You website [7]