By Tim Montgomerie
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Lord Rennard is one of the most significant Liberal Democrats of the last generation – rivalling Ashdown, Campbell and Clegg for importance to the party's fortunes. He was the man who masterminded the party's election strategy and helped build the machine and tactics that saw a huge increase in the number of Lib Dem MPs and its success in by-elections. It is, therefore, understandable that the party's high-ups reacted nervously when a series of women told them that Lord Rennard had acted inappropriately towards them. Let's be clear that Lord Rennard is facing allegations and nothing is proven but TEN women have come forward to Channel 4 News and made allegations. Tim Farron is claiming that he only heard about the allegations on Wednesday night. Really, Mr Farron? These allegations have been alive in the Westminster village for quite some time. Many of Mr Farron's colleagues, including MPs Norman Lamb, Paul Burstow and Jo Swinson had been made aware of them. And what about Mr Clegg? What did he know and when? Like Farron the Lib Dem leader is claiming that he knew nothing. As Mark Littlewood Tweeted; That denial of knowledge had better be "100% true". Quite.
This morning's Daily Mail believes that Clegg's denial stretches all credibility and splashes with the allegations on its front page. It writes:
"The Deputy Prime Minister has been dragged into the sex scandal surrounding a top Liberal Democrat accused of molesting women. Amid mounting claims of a cover-up, it emerged Nick Clegg’s private office was made aware of the claims as long as five years ago. Aides to the Lib Dem leader refused to say how much he knew about the allegations that former party chief Chris Rennard had groped a string of female activists. But last night, evidence was growing that senior party officials ran an organised campaign to silence the women and shut down an internal investigation."
The Lib Dem leadership is getting some very good advice from its own backyard. Stephen Tall of LibDemVoice has described the party's response – an internal review led by Tim Farron – as "inadequate". Angela Harbutt at Liberal Vision also sets out what the party must now do, including "a full investigation into the actions of Paul Burstow, Jo Swinson and Ros Scott" and other senior Lib Dems who were told about the allegations but apparently did little. Any failure by the Lib Dem leadership to launch a full investigation will only increase suspicions that the party leadership has a lot to hide.