Nick Sutton · @suttonnick

26th Feb 2013 from Twitlonger


Audio of interview is here:

A: Chris Rennard was there to talk to the women about ways that we'd been successful in gaining MPs and to impart some of his amazing knowledge on winning seats and give us the confidence that we could be successful and become MPs.

Q: Because he had a huge reputation, didn't he, of winning all those by-election successes.

A: Yes, he has an amazing skill of being able to win by-elections, to be a real strategist and he has done some amazing things for our party.

Q: So you were keen to seek his advice?

A: Well, I was, I was very flattered when he sat down and starting talking to me and started imparting some of his advice to me after we'd eaten dinner. It, it was a very fascinating conversation that we had.

Q: Where was this?

A: This was in the bar of the hotel in Peterborough. We were all had had dinner and we sat down as group afterwards and we were, we were having a general chat. And Chris was sat next to me. And um, he was chatting about people that we knew, people that we knew in common, and advice that he could give me as to how to be more successful.

Q: And what was it that happened then?

A: Well at first I thought it was an accident - his kind of leg brushed against me and then his hand brushed against my leg. And I kind of thought well it's not really. That's your imagination. So I moved away a little. And then he moved a little closer. And I moved away again, and the brushing of my leg kept continuing. So when someone moved off the sofa that was next to me that meant I was a chair distance away, I moved again. And when he had the opportunity he moved into that chair. So I kept moving further away. And eventually I said, 'look I'm going to go off to bed'. And he said, 'oh I'll walk up with you'. I thought no, I'm not having this, so I said, 'I'm going to go to the toilet. It's ok I'll go up to bed alone.' And I went to the toilet, came back out and he was stood there at the bottom of the stairs waiting to walk me up.

Q: What did you do then?

A: We got to the top of stairs, and he suggested joining him in his room for another drink. And I said no, very politely and very firmly and walked away and got back to room as quickly as I could.

Q: So what did you do the morning after all of this happened?

A: The morning after I was, I felt quite timid going into the training sessions. Fortunately my friend was there, and you spoke to her yesterday, and one of my first reactions was actually to pull her to one side and just tell her about it. Just so that it unburdened my own mind and just helped me to have a little bit of thinking time and gave me a real hug rather than just a virtual hug.

Q: Did you talk to your family at all?

A: I talked to my Dad immediately after the incident. I was very distressed and my Dad listened to me and calmed me down before I managed to get off to sleep that night.

Q: Obviously very distressing for you then?

A: Yes, yes I found it extremely distressing and my automatic reaction was, 'I want want my daddy'.

Q: And he was able to comfort you?

A: He was, he was. He asked the questions that he would always ask as a Dad. He just wanted to make sure that I hadn't led Chris on, or that I hadn't created the situation myself and I said, 'no, no Dad, I was just sitting talking to him, just like any other person would be.'

Q: And what was your view about the whole incident?

A: I couldn't believe that first of all I'd been propositioned in the way that I had been. And that I possibly could have knocked by chances of any future success within the party by having said no.

Q: And just explain to us why you were so distressed - some people might think, well this happens - People go away on work conferences, men will try it on.

A: Of course men do try it on, but this is a man with an almighty amount of power. At the time he held the purse strings for any winnable seat and he could choose which were the starred seats - and advise other federal bodies which should be the starred seats. So this is a man who could control your future and if he said, 'oh I'm not too sure about this candidate' people listened to him and people still listen to him. Because he has commanded a great deal of respect.

Q: But there you were confident woman, county councillor, you wanted to be an MP. Jasper Gerard told me on this programme yesterday that LibDem women can stand up for themselves?

A: Well, you find LibDem women can stand up for other people and that they can very ably represent other people but when you are faced with your own dilemma - as this was in 2008 - as to what you do. It becomes really personal and you become really quite worried about how it's going to affect your chances, your future career and also how it's going to affect the party. I mean the last few days have been horrific as a party member, let alone as someone who has fallen prey to this. It has rocked the party to the core. It's been like telling the party faithful that Santa Claus isn't real. And you can't immediately stand up and go 'oh my God this has happened'. You need to think about all the consequences and most of us decided that when we did complain that we would make it informal, because we didn't want any of this fuss.

Q: And when you complained who did you decide to tell about it?

A: I told Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb and Ros Scott. The person who dealt with it in the majority was Jo Swinson who said that she would get it dealt with.

Q: Do you know how far she decided to take it?

A: I only know. I knew that he had been spoken to at the time and that this would stop and it appeared to have for a period of time immediately afterwards. But it now turns out, having heard press reports, that Danny was the person who spoke to him and he denied any knowledge of it happening even back then.

Q: Do you think Jo Swinson herself should have done more about this?

A: I think Jo did the best she could with a bad situation, because at the time, we were all saying, we don't want this to go public, we really don't want this to go public, we don't want to be in the public domain. In fact at one point, someone referred to us as 'Rennard's red hot babes'. And we didn't want the Sun or the News of the World, as it then was, headline saying that. We didn't want any of these headlines.

Q: Is that why you decided you didn't want to make a formal complaint?

A: That was why I decided not to make a formal complaint and also the fact that I didn't want to spoil my future career chances, and I wanted to continue to work within the party that I love and absolutely and totally support.

Q: So what do you think of the way that the party's handled it?

A: I think it's been a great shock to the party. I mean, it was a big enough shock to those of us it happened to. The party has struggled to deal with what is a fundamental problem within the structures of our party. And I think it's a real shame that we haven't been able to handle it better as a party.

Q: How widespread do you think this kind of behaviour was?

A: It is fairly widespread. I have spoken to nine women who were involved in this, which is a fair number. But it is always really difficult for anybody to come forward. And I'm hoping that regardless of the bad reactions that we've had from some of the men in the party, that women will come forward and will engage with the inquiries.

Q: So just to be clear, you've spoken to nine women who've had similar experiences with Lord Rennard?

A: Yes. Over various different years - I think the earliest dates back to around either 2001 or 2002 - but they have been experiences from nine women that I've spoken to.

Q: And do you know whether they made complaints as well?

A: I know many of them did and I know some of them have now come forward and engaged with the inquiry since.

Q: And do you welcome the fact that the police have now become involved in this?

A: I do. I don't know what action the police can take, but I think to try and make this as independent and fair as possible to everyone involved.

Q: Now Nick Clegg has said, he said yesterday in an interview that he wasn't told "very specific allegations". What did you make of that?

A: I made of it that he had heard the rumours as many of the party had. But I also know that many of the party had not heard rumours. I think it put him in a very difficult position and he didn't know how to deal with it and then didn't deal with it well.

Q: So do you think he should have pursued this further?

A: It's very hard in in the environment of politics to actually listen to all the rumours. I'm sure there are rumours out there about everybody who's been involved in public life. It's very hard to make that judgement call. And it's a judgement call you have to make on the spot. And on this occasion, I think he called it wrong.

Q: And in fact there was an email, wasn't there from the Daily Telegraph to Jonny Oates, a very close aide of Nick Clegg. And that did contain specific allegations. That was in April 2010.

A: Yes, and that is, is. I am unsure as to how Nick never heard of that and I would be disappointed if Jonny hadn't brought it to his attention. And from what I've heard he didn't bring it to Nick's attention. But I do think that maybe at that point someone should have said, we've got to look at this more seriously.

Q: Now, I'm sure you've seen Chris Rennard himself has issued a statement where he absolutely denies any suggestion of improper touching, "nor did I invite a woman to join me in my room" and he says, "I note these alleged instances supposedly took place in public bars with other people present"

A: Yes. I've seen that statement, and I find it actually quite hurtful. I mean, it is. I realise that he feels under enormous pressure at the moment. And he is extremely respected, and I have respect for everything he has done apart from this. He has worded it very, very carefully. But I find it, I find it really hard to having known that he invited me to his room and to having known that he approached me in the way that he approached me. That, it has happened and it is true.

Q: Do you think all of this reflects any kind of broader issue with the party? You've referred to the fact that there is an issue around the number of female Mps.

A: I think because these kinds of things happen it does put women off. And I know of people who've left the party because of this. And it, it, it would always be nice to think that we were the party on holier ground. But we're not, and every party has these problems. And I'm sure we will hear more as the weeks go on as to other issues that have happened within other parties as well. It is, it is regrettable but we have to stop this and make this a better situation for women in the future.

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