Thursday, 23 January 2014

Rennard foxed

The Liberal Democrats can't even manage a decent sex scandal.  L'affaire Rennard is hardly comparable to the President of France's indiscretions, nor with the sleazy unwinding of Dave's patron saint John Major's administration.  Yet it raises some fundamental issues around the nature of justice, and the tendency of the baying hordes to convict and condemn without even pausing for breath.

Whatever Rennard has done, or not done, is not really a central issue.  It's predictable to watch the massively-hypocritical Daily Mail approach - tarring the entire Liberal Democrat machine with calumny because they perceive the response of the party machinery to have been weak.  It provides the simplistic, sex-peddling prurient with an opportunity to engage in cant and bile, unsullied by basic irony.  It turns both those who raised the allegations and Rennard himself into a freak show that does nothing to advance the cause of anyone - and it is hardly the case that members of other parties will be particularly keen to poke this particular issue.

The spirit of the age is not entirely without merit.  After decades, if not centuries, of those with power exploiting their positions, there is at least some possibility of redress for this abuse.  The iceberg of prep school pederasty and sadism is now hoving into view - and the accusations of celebrity abuse are being given due process.  Provided such investigations and processes are carried out with due recognition to the law, the presumption of innocence and the need to prove beyond reasonable doubt these are restorative acts that the country should encourage for the benefit of the proven victims and their peace of mind.

Rennard has possibly harmed his cause by the casuistic appearance of his defenders - providing the impression that the Liberal Democrats' internal enquiry's conclusions are of no merit; yet both the party and the police investigation came to the conclusion that the standard of proof had not been reached with respect to explicit actions, even if there was genuine evidence of distress caused.  Had some expression of regret been framed that did not provide an admission of civil or criminal liability, with a retreat into private life, then the affair might have been concluded to the least bad ends.

However, we must guard against merely assuming that every allegation needs to be upheld.  Investigated and, where proven, dealt with.  Merely making a claim does not of itself imply that the complainant is either correct or unimpeachable, and that justice requires the issue to be dealt with even-handedly and sensitively.  Anything else panders to rule by mob, and the destruction of the social structure that permits people to believe in at least partial justice.

At least, to date, no dogs have been shot.

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