Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg. REUTERS/Toby
A sexual harassment scandal has opened a rift in the
Liberal Democrat party, the junior partner in Britain's
two-party coalition government, weakening it ahead of European
elections in May and a national election next year.
Few Britons have heard of Chris Rennard, the party's former
chief executive at the centre of the imbroglio, and an
internal party investigation concluded that sexual harassment
allegations against him could not be proved "beyond
But his refusal to apologise to four female party workers for
distress they say he caused, and the perceived mishandling of
the matter by Nick Clegg, party leader and Britain's deputy
prime minister, have put his leadership under pressure.
"It (the party) is divided into two camps over what, in the
grand scale of things, is a storm in a teacup," Anthony
Greaves, a senior Lib Dem peer, told BBC TV.
"Each side is standing behind their own lines chucking
grenades at the other. People on both sides are in entrenched
positions and all this is going to do is to destroy the
The centre-left party's woes matter because its support
allows Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to govern
despite his failure to win a majority in 2010. The Lib Dems
are also the most pro-European of Britain's parties.
Opinion polls suggest that no one party will win outright
next year either, making another coalition with the Lib Dems
possible despite their poll support collapsing from 23
percent at the last election to around eight percent now.
Many of those who voted for them in 2010 accuse them of
selling out by agreeing to govern with the right-leaning
Conservatives and helping to push through right-wing
With officials turning on one another, the party suspended
Rennard's membership on Monday and ordered an investigation
into allegations that he had brought the party into
In a statement, Rennard, who is also a lawmaker in the upper
house of parliament, denied any wrongdoing and said he could
not apologise for something he had not done. He noted that
the police had investigated him last year and not charged