17:09 Monday 20th December 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: There has been no let up today in the row between Nick Clegg and the senior Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard. Mr Clegg has repeated his insistence that Lord Rennard should not return to his seat in the House of Lords until he has apologised to women who claim he behaved inappropriately towards them. The Liberal Democrats suspended their former Chief Executive on the grounds that he’s brought the party into disrepute. He insists he’s done nothing wrong, after an inquiry ruled there was insufficient evidence. Party President Tim Farron is defending the latest decision.
TIM FARRON: If somebody is found in a position where they are asked to apologise, it is basically common courtesy to do so. Well I’ve known Chris for twenty years, and it saddens me desperately. But it also saddens me desperately that four women in particular, who took the best part of a decade to come forward, have also been put through deep distress.
CHRIS MANN: Colin Rosenstiel is a Liberal Democrat councillor on Cambridge City Council. He used to work at the LibDem headquarters in Westminster, and he’s a close friend of Lord Rennard. In an exclusive interview he joined me earlier.
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: It’s not the Chris Rennard I’ve known for over thirty years. Some of the other people involved I also know, and so I’ve no reason to believe that what they’re saying is not true. Some of the women that I’ve read from in the last few days are concurring with the idea that this is all very overblown, and it’s almost a generational thing, that over-familiarity, that’s the phrase that one used to use, isn’t it, is now much more frowned upon that it was when I was a young man.
CHRIS MANN: So what sort of a fellow is he then?
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: I think what’s going on is awful. I think it’s terrible for the people involved including Chris, who’s not a particularly healthy man. He’s got some health issues. And I just wish we could find a way of .. through mediation or otherwise .. to bring people together and bring this to a close. Because I don’t think anybody has been .. had any serious harm done to them. In fact, if anything, the person who’s being most harmed now is Chris Rennard, because it’s torture for him and his wife.
CHRIS MANN: How important a figure is he to your Party, to the Liberal Democrats?
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: Historically incredibly important.
CHRIS MANN: How would you describe his contribution to the fact that the Liberal Democrats are of course partners in Government now?
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: Oh enormous. It’s just a terrible shame that we are so bad at thanking people in this country, glossing over sometimes their less attractive characters. What I see about the way we treat characters in politics today, and I think this country would have lost the war if we took that attitude to Churchill, who was no saint. And we just expect our politicians now to be saints, and we’ll get pretty untalented ones as a result if we’re not careful.
CHRIS MANN: But still, if there are serious allegations against Lord Rennard, they need to be investigated, do they not?
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: They have been, both by the police who found no case worthy of prosecution .. I think he should apologise, and I think a way .. I understand there are reasons why he’s been reluctant to do that, because he feels that there are those who would not accept that outcome, in terms of closure. And therefore I do think some form of mediation is necessary to get to a point where people can agree to desist.
CHRIS MANN: He has issued a statement saying he’s enormously distressed by what’s happened today, and that he’s too ill to attend the House of Lords.
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: I think he’s been criticised for this by people who are not behaving in a liberal way. Nick Clegg said this on the radio this morning too, that we need to resolve this by liberal means.
CHRIS MANN: What do you think of Nick Clegg’s contribution to all this? He seems to have forced it, the issue, doesn’t he, in the last couple of days?
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: I’m sure Nick has been responding to the pressure on him.
CHRIS MANN: This must be harming the Party, must it not, the reputation of the Liberal Democrats?
COLIN ROSENSTIEL: It’s harming the Party because Party Members are at each other’s throats. That’s the worst thing of all. An unedifying sight, and those people should stop and say is what I’m doing in the cause of liberalism, because I can’t say I’ve noticed, from a number of contributions over recent weeks.