Bill Carmichael: Party with no core principles

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EVERY election time the Liberal Democrats pull off a clever, if disreputable, trick – they tell voters exactly what they want to hear.

They carefully manipulate their message so as to appear to be all things to all people. In the inner cities they are socialists red in tooth and claw, outflanking Labour on the left and calling for increased taxes on the rich and state control of industry.

But in the suburbs and the Home Counties it is a very different story. Here they are brimful of fiscal responsibility, safe and reliable – just like the Conservatives only with more heart.

The architect of this brilliant strategy is Chris, now Lord, Rennard who earned his stripes in the nest of vipers that is the political scene in Liverpool.

Rennard has now been accused of sexual harassment of female Lib Dem activists – allegations that he strenuously denies – and the resulting row has split the party down the middle and caused the biggest crisis in Nick Clegg’s leadership.

For six years Clegg and the Lib Dem leadership tried to ignore the allegations against Rennard, the party’s powerful chief executive, as indeed they did with similar claims against MP Mike Hancock, who also denies claims of sexual misconduct towards a female constituent and who was suspended by the party this week.

Clegg was only forced to act in the Rennard case when the women decided to voice their complaints to the press. In a classic attempt to kick the issue into the long grass, he asked a QC, Alistair Webster, to produce a report.

Webster found the allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour were “broadly credible”, but added they could not be proven. He nevertheless recommended that the peer apologise.

Rennard and his allies spotted the gaping hole in this reasoning immediately. If there is no proof of sexual misconduct then why should he apologise? And given he denies the allegations, wouldn’t any apology be seen as evidence of guilt and leave him open to further legal action?

Rennard has now been suspended from the party, not because of unproven claims of sexual misconduct, but because he refuses to say sorry for something he insists he didn’t do.

He is threatening legal action and the party has split into two factions each seemingly determined to destroy the other. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg shows all the leadership qualities of a bewildered rabbit blinking into the headlights of an approaching juggernaut.

What this shows is the limitations of a policy of fudge and muddle in the absence of any firm guiding principles.

It also makes the Lib Dems look like a weird cult, full of dirty old men, following arcane rules no one else understands and constantly bickering among themselves.

Sounds about right to me.

Silence over Assad

Evidence emerged this week that the despotic regime in Syria had systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees.

No real surprise there. President Bashar Assad is a blood-soaked monster.

But where is the outrage? Israel has only to temporarily close a border crossing – usually in response to some terrorist outrage – and leftists in the West have a blue fit. There are condemnations at the UN, calls for boycotts, and demonstrations where some swivel-eyed lunatic invariably burns an Israeli flag.

In the past few months, Assad has probably murdered more Palestinians than have died in conflicts with Israel since 1948 – but from the activists there is not a peep of protest.

More evidence, if you needed it, that the anti-Israel hatred so common in the West is motivated not by compassion or a desire for peace, but by bigotry and racism.