So the door of the windowless room is firmly locked from the outside, the water level is inexorably rising and a couple of sharks are circling ominously. How will the Lib Dems get out of this one? It’s a sad, sad situation, and it’s getting more and more absurd, but this time a Nick Clegg style charity single ain’t gonna cut it. Especially when half of the potential performers are trying to throttle the other half in an argument over who should be saying “Sorry”.
With just one MP sent to jail and one sex scandal during this Parliament, you could say it’s been a tame few years for the Lib Dems. But the absence of lurid headlines isn’t much consolation when your collective soul’s gone AWOL. It speaks volumes that what’s sparking fireworks amongst Lib Dems isn’t their gutless complicity in a merciless onslaught on the poor by a pitiless elite. Nor is it the fact that the only way to make an honest document of their 2010 manifesto is by rewriting each sentence to mean its precise opposite. No, they’re fine with all of that, but when it comes to arguing about what level of serial sexual harassment is appropriate for a party big-wig, they’re like ferrets in a sack.
The House of Lords doesn’t do High Noon, because these expenses-claim lunches won’t eat themselves. So Monday’s showdown was scheduled for 2.30 pm. That was when, to the background accompaniment of his charity single “The Oldest Swinger In Town”, the triumphantly returning Lord Rennard was due to be winched into his appointed bench, with half of his colleagues strewing rose petals underneath him while the other half sat with steam whistling out of their ears.
Then, at 2.29 pm, pandemonium! A press release, cobbled together by a Lib Dem committee none of us knew existed, came whizzing across cyberspace. Lord Rennard’s party membership, it announced, had been suspended while he was investigated for not apologising for the wrongdoing their previous investigation hadn’t been able to prove. They wanted his party badge back, but he could keep the coloured pencils and bumper stickers. (This last concession was largely drowned out by lawyers across London popping champagne corks.)
Lord Rennard could still have come to the House if he’d wanted, although he might have had to bring his own folding chair if he intended to sit. But there was a crowd of photographers at his door, all set to re-enact a chase sequence on the Benny Hill Show, which would raise the alarming prospect of becoming the first life peer to go viral on YouTube. Anyway, he was indisposed, having barely the strength to compose a 2,256-word self-exculpatory press release of his own. So we were denied our promised coup de théâtre, although, on the positive side, the bricks that would otherwise have been hurled through TV screens can now be used to build affordable housing.
Seriously, though, why can’t the Lib Dems just get a grip? In the real world, disciplinary procedures don’t faff around with “beyond reasonable doubt”, or hastily-arranged investigations to buy time before the next embarrassment engulfs you.
We don’t know exactly what this guy did, because the behaviour of which he’s accused happens in secret, rather than with a tannoy blaring “Uninvited frottage taking place in Room 94”. And you do have to tread carefully just in case an accusation is malicious. But when you’ve got several women independently affirming they don’t feel comfortable sharing a working space with him without having a can of Mace handy, it should be game over. He doesn’t need sympathy for being misunderstood; he needs a bin bag for his personal effects and a tersely-worded instruction to go and lurk at the Job Centre.
But he’s such a brilliant election strategist, bleat his apologists, launching into a note-perfect rendition of their charity single “Nothing Compares 2U”. Look, chaps, I know you have village idiot competitions to enter, so I’ll keep this brief.
Firstly, are you really saying that, therefore, his victims should just “take one for the team”? Secondly, there are 2.39 million on the unemployment register, of whom I reckon quite a few could con votes out of a gullible electorate just as readily as Chrissy-boy, without fondling someone’s patella. Thirdly, no election strategy on the planet is going to save the Lib Dems in 2015, unless all 57 of their MPs are discovered trussed up in a warehouse in Newport Pagnell, and it turns out they were impersonated after the last election by malevolent shape-shifters. The Lib Dems don’t need a strategist; they need a taxidermist.
On that argument, maybe there’s no time like the present for the Lib Dems to destroy themselves in an eruption of mutual loathing. It can’t make their next election result any worse, and perhaps, like a forest fire, it will clear space for fresh growth. New thinkers, bright ideas, a gleaming vision about a middle way for society. Those of us who used to consider them their second-favourite political party, because that was an important component of British life, like saving milk bottle tops for the Blue Peter appeal, might once again be able to smile.
And if they knock on the door asking us to vote for them? No problem, we’ll just whistle a few bars of our new charity single: “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.