Lib Dem leadership candidate Jo Swinson’s critical comments about Lord Rennard may result in a courtroom showdown, and the Earl of Suffolk’s ‘slap in the face’ for regulars at this month’s WOMAD festival.
Jo Swinson will not only have to do battle with the Brextremists if she succeeds Sir Vince Cable as leader of the Liberal Democrats, but also, potentially, Lord Rennard.
Swinson, has signalled she will be looking to withdraw her party’s whip from Rennard in the House of Lords if she takes over as leader, a move the peer is expected to contest in the courts.
Swinson had the task of investigating the party’s former chief executive over allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards female activists, which resulted in Rennard issuing an apology to any women whose “personal space” he may “inadvertently [have] encroached” upon.
“Rennard shows no remorse, no contrition for what happened and he remains a Lib Dem peer,” Swinson told me in a forthright interview for The New European. “That shows how badly it was handled.” She complained that Rennard had too much power as chief executive and she’d not been given sufficient support from her party’s “powers-that-be” with her investigation.
An associate of Rennard tells me Swinson’s remarks concerned him. “The Metropolitan Police made a thorough and professional investigation into the complaints which concluded with a ‘no further action’ decision, and without sending a file to the Crown Prosecution Service,” the associate added.
When Nick Clegg first considered withdrawing the Lib Dem whip from Rennard in 2014, Lord Carlile, then a fellow Lib Dem peer (and now a crossbencher), said he had “no doubt” Rennard would be “taking legal advice” if he attempted to do it. Rennard has so far resiled from involving himself in a public slanging match with Swinson.
Just before Christmas, Gavin Williamson was accused of plotting to overthrow Theresa May during a late night dinner at the Colony Grill in Mayfair with his close friend James Wharton.
The story was denied by Wharton – a former Tory MP turned PR professional at Hume Brophy – and Williamson was not long afterwards ousted as defence secretary amid accusations he’d leaked sensitive information from a National Security Council meeting.
The old team of Williamson and Wharton was reunited to work for Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, but the lurid headlines and complaints that the people around him looked too male, pale and stale led to a reshuffle. Iain Duncan Smith was drafted in as campaign chairman – arguably taking over Wharton’s role as chief of staff – along with Mark Fullbrook, who masterminded Zac Goldsmith’s revolting London mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan.
Neither IDS nor Fullbrook are, of course, women, but at Hume Brophy there are jobs for women to do. The firm appointed the prominent Johnson backer Esther McVey to an adviser job during her brief period out of politics, and Charlotte Lang, its director of public affairs, was one of the signatories to an open letter published last year which condemned the way Carrie Symonds had been treated by the media after her affair with Johnson was first revealed.
Peter Bone hasn’t always been the most diplomatic of souls, but the Brextremist MP has managed to unite two factions in his life, albeit at the taxpayer’s expense.
He employs Jeanette Bone, his wife until last summer, as his secretary in his parliamentary office. He also employs Helen Harrison – the woman 20 years his junior that he left her for – as a part-time assistant.
Out of tune
Chris Smith, the director of the WOMAD – World of Music, Arts and Dance – Festival that kicks off at Charlton Park in Wiltshire on July 25, has been moaning about Brexit. “We’re struggling to overcome it and let artists know they’re welcome here,” he lamented in an interview in May. “Lots of artists are finding they can get to Europe, but fear taking the next step to the UK, particularly if there is no passport union.”
For now, the UK remains in the EU, but the uncertainty took its toll on the festival’s line-up, even with a home-grown talent like Anna Calvi on the bill.
Smith may well want to take the matter up with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is best mates with Charlton Park’s owner the Earl of Suffolk. Last year the Earl gave the Brextremist a number of directorships associated with his family seat. One regular attendee told me the decision to involve Rees-Mogg in Charlton Park is a “slap in the face for everyone who believes in WOMAD”.