of the ‘firsts’ in which Britain
has led the world: railways, television, the jet engine, penicillin, DNA structure
– the list goes on. Now we’ve done it
again: the first sex scandal that doesn’t involve sex.
Rennard, a Liberal-Democrat peer, is alleged to have harassed at least four
female workers at party functions. He
did so it is claimed by putting his hand on their knees or, in one case, by inveigling
the lady up to his room where, apparently to her astonishment, he suggested a
bit of you-know-what. Each of the ladies
whose knees had been touched immediately made clear their lack of interest and
Lord Rennard, duly rebuffed and no doubt firmly rebuked, took the matter no
further. The lady in his room likewise
turned him down and left, intact and unharmed.
I have never met Lord Rennard, but from press photographs I would not have guessed
that his reputation was that of a latter-day Don Juan. Still, appearances can be deceptive; for
proof of that just glance across the Channel at Francois Hollande. Next to Rennard, the French president exudes
raw sex-appeal. What Rennard mostly exudes
is body-fat. He comes across as a flabby,
red-faced, tuck-gorged schoolboy straight from the old Billy Bunter stories of fond
ladies did not at first complain about Rennard’s behaviour, but following the
script of most of the sex scandals currently occupying our newspapers, were later
‘persuaded’ to tell their stories.
Persuaded by whom or what, none can say.
Lib-Dems commissioned a report on Lord Rennard’s encounters and found that
while he had not in any legal sense of the term made sexual contact, he had
‘invaded their personal space’. The
party demanded Rennard apologise.
Rennard declined, on the ground that he had done nothing for which to
apologise, and for this act of defiance he has been expelled from the party. Rennard has announced his intention to seek
scandal, as inevitably it has been labelled by the media, rumbles on.
tone may come across as flippant – and perhaps in time I too will be called
upon to apologise – but it seems to me that Rennard is far from the evil salivating
deviant that is being portrayed. Yes, I
can well see him as an oleaginous squint-eyed sleazebag – what we used to call
a ‘dirty old man’. And there is no doubt
in my mind, not a scintilla of doubt, that he made the sexual overtures that
have been alleged.
an overture is not a symphony, not even a concerto. His behaviour should not be condoned. It can be roundly condemned. But I can’t help wondering if our sense of perspective
has not become a little warped. We
British used to be known for our tolerance, our balance, our common sense.
affronted ladies seem to be lacking all three virtues. They were not children, nor were they otherwise
vulnerable. They were, as far as one can
tell, mature and intelligent women, surely capable of telling His Lordship that
his advances were unwarranted and unwelcome, and perhaps venturing to tell him
so in the most disparaging and humiliating terms.
term ‘invasion of personal space’, one that I fear will surely gain currency in
future cases, is troubling. Gentlemen-a-wooing
had better beware. One false move – a friendly
hug, a gentle squeeze of an arm – and one dark night the Old Bill will come
a-knocking at the door. “Excuse me, sir,
but would you mind accompanying us to the station. Just routine, sir, but a lady has alleged
that you invaded her personal space at Charing Cross
station this morning.”
Lib Dems are right to rebuke Rennard. He
is wrong not to have apologised, assuming he did what he is alleged to have
done. He is certainly wrong on the
tactical level, because he is now finished as a player on the political stage,
the Lib Dems will lose seats at the election, and their leader Nick Clegg may
be looking at the beginning of the end of his political career.
a curious palaver! And all over a
wandering hand at an alcohol-fuelled party conference.
we seem to have become bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
I prepare to be attacked as an anachronistic misogynist for saying so.