Monday, 25 February 2013

Rennard, Clegg and the Tory lynch-mob

I hold no brief for Chris Rennard.  Nor do I know whether the allegations made about his conduct are true.  However, to coin a phrase much beloved by the sleazy hypocrites of the Tory tabloids, the great principle of British justice is that even the most odious are innocent until proven guilty, and entitled to a fair trial.  Repeating smears and innuendo achieves maximum reputational damage, especially as the speed and cost of defamation actions militates against the victim - allowing the highly-paid and resource-rich to continue their campaign even when allegedly defending themselves.

Yet so far, all the public has been presented with is a string of anonymous allegations and a statement by Nick Clegg that he was made aware of non-specific allegations in 2008.  If any proven events took place after he had confronted Rennard, then Clegg's guilt extends so far as to have accepted denials of previously-occurring harassment, rather than investigate - and he has correctly accepted that there may be issues with party processes and culture independent of whether or not the allegations against Rennard are upheld through a separate investigation.

There is a witch-hunt mentality in the air.  From the hysterical press coverage you would have thought that the Liberal Democrats had awarded honorary membership (and nominated for peerages) to Hitler, Savile, the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors Murderers.  Were one paranoid, this smacks of the approach that the Tories will need to adopt, under their paragon of moral and political rectitude, Lynton Crosby, to smear their opponents and distract from their amoral incompetence.  Eastleigh as a dry-run for 2015, anyone?

The allegations against Rennard are both unpleasant and worthy of a proportionate investigation.  They are currently as substantiated as a putative and anonymous claim that the editor of a Tory tabloid is a foul-mouthed megalomaniac who has a penchant for sacrificing goats after dressing them up as French maids.  Were this the case, I cannot imagine that it would be front-page news, or would be spun as the great left-liberal conspiracy intimidating the true spirit of British expression.

Nobody comes out of this kind of situation well - but the time is right for a sense of proportion.  Clegg for once hit the mark with the phrase "trial by innuendo".  When investigation, conviction and punishment are dictated by the media then what passes for democracy is damaged and diminished; raising allegations is legitimate but then leaping to a convenient conclusion smacks of right-wing attack-doggery.  Now the allegations are there, then investigation needs to follow.

It still looks like a diversionary tactic given the state of Tory morale - the timing and the lack of real substance.  For the media, a salutary reminder is that the oft-repeated quotation of Baldwin on the subject of power without responsibility will apply in spades.  The harlots are very cheap these days, and riddled with poisonous diseases.  

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