Chris Rennard, Baron Rennard
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Christopher John Rennard, Baron Rennard (born 8 July 1960), is a British life peer in the House of Lords, appointed by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown to join the Liberal Democrats benches in 1999. He was Director of Campaigns & Elections for the Liberal Democrats from 1989 – 2003 and Chief Executive from 2003 to 2009. The seven-month suspension of his party membership was lifted in August 2014 when there was a “No Further Action” decision in relation his criticisms of party processes he was restored to full membership of the party.
Education and early career
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Rennard was educated at the Liverpool Blue Coat School and gained a BA Hons Social Studies (1982) from University of Liverpool. From his early teens, Rennard was an active member of the Liberal Party. He began his political activism in Liverpool in the late 1970s where he chaired the University Liberals and Social Democrats. The early pioneers of community politics in Liverpool including Cyril Carr, Trevor Jones and David Alton had a major influence on him. Rennard was Deputy Chair of the Liverpool Liberal Party and organised many of the party's successful election campaigns, when the Liberal Party controlled the City Council. His first successful parliamentary by-election campaign was Liverpool Edge Hill by-election in March 1979 at which the party's candidate was David Alton; Rennard was Alton's agent for the Liverpool Mossley Hill constituency in 1983 (after boundary changes) and helped to achieve a 14% swing against the Conservatives in a General Election that saw a landslide Conservative victory nationally, and in a constituency where the Liberals had to win from third place.
In 1984, he became one of the party's national Area Agents based in Leicester when the party won its first seats there for over 20 years. He was a key member of many of the Liberal/Alliance by-election campaign teams including West Derbyshire by-election, 1986, and Greenwich by-election, 1987. He was a member of the standing committee of ALC (Association of Liberal Councillors) and wrote many of the party's publications on election campaigning and party organisation.
In 1989, Rennard was appointed as Director of Campaigns and Elections for the Liberal Democrats. He married Ann McTegart (whom he had met when they were both Liberal Party agents in Merseyside in the 1980s) and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1989 New Year Honours.
In the general election of 1997 he oversaw the party's target-seat campaign, which resulted in the Liberal Democrats more than doubling its number of MPs from 18 to 46. In 2001 and 2005, with Tim Razzall (Baron Razzall) as Campaign Chair, and Charles Kennedy as Leader, he also directed the Liberal Democrats' general-election campaigns, which further increased the number of Lib Dem MPs to 52 and 62, the largest total of Liberal, Alliance or Liberal Democrat MPs since 1922.
He was the party's Chief Executive between 2003 and 2009. During his employment with the Liberal Democrats at a national level he was credited with masterminding 13 parliamentary by-election wins for the party (11 gains and 2 holds). The Eastbourne parliamentary by-election in 1990 was credited as rescuing the Liberal Democrats from their very weak position following the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP and saw a 16,923 Tory majority overturned by a Liberal democrat majority of 4,550. The by-election followed a major row between Rennard and Ashdown over the party leader’s initial opposition to the party fighting the by-election. A by-election in Christchurch in Dorset during July 1993 saw the Liberal Democrats replace the Conservative Party in the seat by the largest swing (35%) against any UK government since 1918.
Former party leader Charles Kennedy has described Rennard as "a quite extraordinary figure in British politics", while his predecessor Paddy Ashdown praised Rennard as "a formidable and widely-respected practitioner of political campaigning across all parties". Iain Dale said in an interview in Total Politics (June 2011) that Rennard "is probably the most formidable and feared political campaigner of the last 20 years.
Concerning the 2001 general election, one frontbench Lib Dem is reported as saying:
- "Last time people didn't follow Chris [Rennard's] instructions and the difference between those who did and who didn't – like in the Isle of Wight [which the party lost] – was very clear. The message got through."
Rennard is credited with pioneering the successful Lib Dem election strategy of claiming narrow majorities when in second or even third place and ruthlessly squeezing third party votes in Tory – Lib Dem and Labour – Lib Dem marginals.
Rennard served as the Liberal Democrats Chief Executive from 2003 to 2009 during which time he was in overall charge of the party's election campaigns and organisation. His campaigns team continued to build the party's successes through by-elections such as Brent East by-election, 2003 and Leicester South by-election, 2004. Following the Lib Brent East by-election victory, ICM reported the three main parties as all being on 31% nationally. The Independent profiled Lord Rennard saying calling him “a Liberal democrat who knows how to win elections” saying that, “In recent years thoughtful Conservatives surveying their wretched political predicament sometimes wondered aloud where "their" Peter Mandelson was. As usual they were asking the wrong question. They should have been seeking "their" Chris Rennard. For while Rennard enjoys a rather lower profile than New Labour's sultan of spin, the Liberal Democrats' own election guru is a no less formidable operator. True, Rennard has not managed to take the Liberal Democrats to Downing Street with a landslide majority, but it is in large part to him that the party owes its revival, the latest evidence of which was its victory in Brent East. As Chief Executive, Rennard oversaw the party’s recovery from a series of crises in January 2006 when Charles Kennedy resigned as Leader, Mark Oaten resigned as the party’s Home Affairs spokesman and Simon Hughes was outed as gay by the Sun newspaper. This turbulent period came to an end in March when he oversaw Willie Rennie’s victory in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, 2006, taking the Liberal Democrats to 63 MPs. He chaired the Liberal Democrat general election campaign for both Sir Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg between summer 2006 and summer 2009, when he stood down as Chief Executive of the Party.
Rennard announced that he would be standing down as chief executive of the Liberal Democrats in May 2009. He indicated that he had discussed standing down some time earlier with the party leader, Nick Clegg, and that this was for family and health reasons, saying that he had "struggled to maintain good diabetic control with the rigours of a very demanding lifestyle".
Since relinquishing the full-time position, Chris Rennard has continued to contribute to party election campaigns. He was appointed to Chair a Commission on Big Society set up by the ACEVO to articulate a civil society vision of what charities want to achieve through the Big Society agenda. Lord Rennard is also a trustee of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
He is a Patron of The Crescent centre in St Albans which provides help and support to those living with, or otherwise affected by, HIV.
Lord Rennard provides advice and support on campaign, communication, fundraising and management issues through the consultancy “Rennard & McTegart Ltd”. He is the Director of Communications for the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) and writes a regular “Westminster Watch” column for their Bulletin.
House of Lords
Rennard was created a life peer on 21 July 1999 as Baron Rennard, of Wavertree in the County of Merseyside, and was introduced in the House of Lords on 27 July 1999,. He is Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Diabetes and a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.
In the House of Lords, Chris Rennard has mostly spoken on political and constitutional reform issues. He led for the party on the Political Parties Elections and Referendum Bill (2000) that set the framework for the rules such as those governing party finance. He fought to replace large donor funding of parties, with limited state funding. He has campaigned against abuses of the postal vote system and helped to bring about some reforms to it. He has spoken out strongly and voted for Lords Reform at every possible stage. In this Parliament, he was responsible for changing proposals to move electoral registration to as “US” style entirely ‘voluntary’ system that would have greatly favoured the Conservatives. He was also responsible in the House of Lords for the cross-party amendment that blocked the proposed review of parliamentary boundaries thought to favour the Conservatives by up to 30 seats in the General election. He also speaks in the Lords on other issues including some of those associated with public health including diabetes and smoking.
Rennard was among a group of Parliamentarians whose expense claims came under scrutiny in May 2009. The allegations were investigated by the Clerk of the Parliaments Michael Pownall following a complaint by the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics. Pownall's ruling did not uphold any of the complaint. Lord Rennard's case was the first of a number of similarly controversial complaints against several peers to be resolved.
Allegations of sexual harassment
A week before the Eastleigh parliamentary by-election in which the Lib Dems were seeking to retain Chris Huhne’s parliamentary constituency, Channel 4 News ran a report on Lord Rennard, alleging a history of sexual harassment during his time as an official of the party. He strongly denied the allegations and they were not supported by either a Police investigation, or an independent inquiry.
The earliest claims go back to 2007 when two women met Paul Burstow, then the party's chief whip in the Commons, to raise the issue with him. In a February 2013 statement shortly after Channel 4 News had broken the story, Nick Clegg wrote that claims about the improper conduct of Lord Rennard had been brought to his attention in 2008, but Rennard had denied any wrongdoing when challenged. The "indirect and non-specific concerns" he had been told about meant that he could take no further action, but his chief of staff at the time Danny Alexander had warned Rennard that the alleged behaviour would be "wholly unacceptable". A subsequent independent report in June 2013 by Helena Morrissey into “processes and culture within the Liberal Democrats” said that the leadership should have held an inquiry into the allegations at that time. There was no such inquiry until that conducted by Alistair Webster QC, who concluded after examining over a hundred statements (including those made by the complainants as a result of interviews with specially trained police officers) that the evidence was insufficient to proceed to a disciplinary hearing.
The Metropolitan Police Service carried out their own investigation after one of the complainants went to them on February 27, 2013 (eve of poll in the Eastleigh by-election). On 26 September 2013, the Metropolitan Police announced they had dropped the investigation as they had found "insufficient evidence". They did not submit a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration.
Following the Police “No Further Action” decision, the Liberal Democrats resumed their own inquiry with Alistair Webster QC acting as “independent investigator.” There were three complaints by the deadline of 22 November 2013, and Alistair Webster reported that there was insufficient evidence to proceed further. A fourth complaint was then also considered and Alistair Webster again reported (on 22 December 2013) that there was insufficient evidence to proceed any further. The party rules required the independent QC to either recommend a disciplinary hearing to investigate further, or to say that there was insufficient evidence to proceed. In the event that he had considered guilt to be possible (on any basis), then he would have had to recommend a disciplinary hearing to investigate further.
Alistair Webster informed Lord Rennard on 15 January 2014, that the decision was “No Further Action” and that the party statement that day was “not his responsibility.” The party statement said that there was broadly credible evidence of "behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants.” The question of the standard of proof required did not arise as the evidence was insufficient to hold a disciplinary hearing, The party statement said that it was "unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way" and asked Lord Rennard to “consider an apology.” 
Neither Nick Clegg nor Tim Farron had read the actual Webster report and Lord Rennard was denied sight of it, in spite of earlier promises that he would see it. Tim Farron asked Lord Rennard to apologise to the women involved. It was reported in The Daily Telegraph that Nick Clegg had stated that "it is right that Chris Rennard has been asked in this report to apologise, to reflect on his behaviour." Clegg went on to state that Rennard would not be "playing any role in my general election plans for the campaign in 2015."
The report was eventually provided to Lord Rennard and to the four complainants in March 2014 and it did not contain any request or recommendation for an apology. The Liberal Democrats English Appeals Committee ruled in July 2014 that Lord Rennard could not be criticised over the apology issue and that the report should not have been withheld from him, but it has still not been published.
On 20 January 2014 Rennard was suspended from the Liberal Democrats and he was informed that this was on the basis of “Media and social media comments made by you, endorsed by you and made on your behalf that have attacked the party and the party processes publically since the announcement of the Webster report results.” Lord Rennard’s legal adviser, Lord Carlile QC had written a strongly critical article in the Mail on Sunday about “the party’s unjust and arbitrary conduct of the case”.
Lord Rennard issued a lengthy personal statement in response to his suspension explaining some of the background to the allegations made against him and the party’s handling of them.
A later statement was issued by Rennard on 21 August 2014 saying that:
|“||All allegations made about Lord Rennard have now been investigated thoroughly. This included a seven month investigation by specially trained officers of the Metropolitan Police. The police decided that there could be no charges and did not even a send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service. In addition, there was a lengthy investigation by independent QC Alistair Webster. He also concluded that there was insufficient evidence even to proceed to a disciplinary hearing. The Liberal Democrat Party has now dealt with all the allegations and the matter is closed. We must advise anyone against publishing or broadcasting defamatory remarks. Accusations that were rejected by both the Metropolitan Police and an independent QC would be treated as such.||”|
Helena Morrissey was invited to report on processes and culture within the Liberal Democrats and her report in December 2014 concluded in relation to Lord Rennard that:
|“||At this point, December 2014, every investigation has concluded with no further action to be taken against Lord Rennard. The process over the past nearly two years – conducted according to the prevailing rules – has run its course and although the outcome is a source of great frustration to some, I believe that the Party can only move on if that outcome is accepted. At this stage, given that the Party applied its own processes, there is no justification for it remaining ambivalent towards Lord Rennard – he should be just as welcome a participant or guest at Party events as any other. ||”|
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