The last thing any political party wants in the week before an election are the weekend papers to be full of headlines about a scandal. It’s bad enough for the LibDems that the Vicky Pryce/Chris Huhne trial recommences in the morning, but to have headlines about how they have seemingly mismanaged allegations of sexual impropriety is the ultimate nightmare for LibDem strategists. The only consolation is that if the LibDems lose in Eastleigh on Thursday, at least they have a viable explanation.
Let me start by making a declaration of interest: I count Chris Rennard as a friend, so forgive me if I don’t want to discuss the detail of the allegations against him in this blogpost.
When I heard that LibDems were saying that Nick Clegg had known nothing about these allegations, it didn’t surprise me. After all, no one in the LibDems admitted to knowing anything about Charles Kennedy’s drinking. They still deny to this day that anyone in the Liberal leadership knew about the rumours of Cyril Smith’s predilection for little boys, yet it was common gossip at the time, as a book I am publishing later in the year will verify. Ignorance is the defence of the deluded. Bearing in mind that three of Nick Clegg’s senior staffers, Jonny Oates, Alison Suttie and Matthew Hannay knew of the detail of these allegations, are we seriously supposed to believe that none of them saw fit to tell Clegg? Oates is Chief of Staff. Alison Suttie was his deputy and Matthew Hannay, a key and trusted member of his staff and they all knew about the allegations. If none of them told their boss they are not doing their jobs properly,
This has been a classic case of terrible crisis management. The worst thing you can do in a crisis is react like this. Clegg is about to admit that he did in fact know something, although we don’t yet know what. Yet Vince Cable and Jeremy Browne have gone on TV this morning saying they knew nothing and nor did their leader.
I’ve been around political parties long enough to know how political gossip works. And let’s not kid ourselves these issues are confined to the Liberal Democrats. There are sexual predators in positions of power in all political parties. But from a voter’s point of view, this is the latest in a line of scandals to affect the LibDems which may led people to think that they are disproportionately affected by this kind of thing.
Nick Clegg said he was very disappointed in Chris Huhne. Tonight, a lot of people may well feel disappointed in Nick Clegg.
Call Clegg with Nick Ferrari this week should be interesting!
Can we expect another version of the I’m Sorry video?