Has Nick Clegg told his biggest lie yet?
Nick Clegg's testimony on the Rennard scandal already stretches credibility. For the sake of his own career he better hope he hasn’t told his biggest lie yet
You would be hard pressed to get anyone to admit it, but there came a point yesterday when Nick Clegg’s enemies dared to privately whisper the question party acolytes are doing their level best to ignore: could the Lib Dem leader be forced to resign over the Rennard scandal?
The past few days have seen revelation after revelation trickle out, and Clegg himself force change his story at least once. When I spoke to a senior Conservative source before the story broke last week their by-election melancholy was palpable. Last night the very same Tory delighted in telling me about the troubles of his Coalition partners, as he called them: “the poor things”.
As is always the way in politics, and for some reason particularly with Lib Dems, it is the cover up that gets you. If Clegg had admitted from the start that he knew of specific allegations against Lord Rennard, but chose to deal with them internally according to the wishes of the women involved, he would have largely avoided the crisis he finds himself in.
But he didn’t. As a result there is a possibility – and at the moment it remains only a possibility – that Clegg’s position could become untenable. What would be the circumstances by which that scenario could come to play? Let us look at where we currently stand.
On Sunday evening Clegg issued a statement authored in fluent legalese. He vowed:
“I did not know about these allegations until Channel 4 informed the party of them shortly before they were broadcast... I am angry and outraged at the suggestion that I would not have acted if these allegations had been put to me. Indeed, when indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008, we acted to deal with them.”
Yesterday afternoon, the Telegraph published correspondence from 2010 between one of their reporters and Jonny Oates, then the Lib Dem director of communications and now Clegg’s chief of staff. The Telegraph informed Oates of detailed, specific allegations against Rennard, including that he had propositioned a young female intern in what became known as the “Peterborough incident”, and that he locked two prospective candidates in his home until they threatened to call the police.
Oates responded saying that Clegg was unaware of the incidents mentioned. But in order for Oates to be sure Clegg didn’t know – sure enough to tell a national newspaper as his head of comms – he would surely have had to ask the Lib Dem leader in person. Despite insisting his office was only told of “indirect and non-specific concerns” in 2008, it is simply inconceivable that Clegg was not personally told about detailed, specific allegations against Rennard in 2010.
His failure to admit this in his statement makes it very difficult to see how Clegg is not guilty of – at the very least – deliberately misleading the public. So far he has refused to comment on the Telegraph story, instead seeking solace with his European friends in Amsterdam. Make no mistake; this is deadly serious for him.
Chris Huhne could have come clean at the beginning, merely lost his driving licence, and found himself in high office to this very day. The man who beat him to the Lib Dem leadership must have learned this lesson.
If just one Lib Dem comes out and says they told Clegg about a specific allegation against Lord Rennard, recovery would be nigh on impossible. His testimony already stretches credibility; for the sake of his own career he better hope he hasn’t told his biggest lie yet.
Alex Wickham is The Commentator's UK Political Editor and a reporter at the Guido Fawkes website. He is a contributor to their column in The Sun newspaper. He tweets at @WikiGuido
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