Nobody really knew how Nick Clegg would cope with his new job in May 2010. They were the days when the Liberal Democrats approval ratings were at 29%. Morale across the entire was party was high as they entered a new age not knowing what to expect. They remained united as they took their seats on the government benches for the first time, worshiping their leader who had performed extremely well in the televised leadership debates just a few months before.
As you know, this united party did not last long. Only until December 2010 when they split over tuition fees, something they promised they would not introduce. Since then, we have seen the party at the bottom of the polls struggling to gain back the support that they once possessed.
It is the sexual harassment claims of Lord Rennard , a non-political issue that is currently shredding the Liberal Democrats to pieces, and in particular their once most cherished leader. Younger members of the party are turning against Lord Rennard, former chief-executive of the party, while the people of Rennard’s generation are willing to back him. Their comments however, have not been too helpful with Chris Davies MEP saying ‘This is not Jimmy Saville. This is touching someone’s leg six years ago at a meeting through clothing’. It was not really the best he could say, but he has apologised for his ‘crass’ remarks.
It is Nick Clegg however, who will be hit hardest and there are three factors that make this a very damaging time for him.
First, it has been reported that he knew about certain claims as early as 2008 and Scotland Yard concluded that he should have ordered a formal investigation much sooner than he originally did.
Secondly, Lord Rennard has been the most significant individual in the party in recent years. He has been credited as building the party into that of what we saw at in 2010 – a party that could be a suitable opposition. He was also involved in keeping the Eastleigh constituency in Liberal Democrat hands after Chris Huhne was arrested (this is last time Clegg has spoken to him).
Finally, it has allowed Tim Farron, the party president and Clegg’s most dangerous rival, to attack the party’s handling of the situation and therefore allow him to build up a strong base of supporters for when he runs for the party leadership.
The simple fact is this incident should not have become such a large scale event. It is not a political issue. It is just the failure of Lord Rennard to apologise. Of course, nothing has been proven so it is difficult to ask him to apologise. Instead, a rather insignificant event has thrown the party into a conflict that is significantly weakening the party. With legal action against the party looming, the whole crisis shows that Nick Clegg is unable to control his party. He will remain leader until 2015, but no matter what happens at the general election, he will most likely be ousted.