*Lorely has since clarified her views, and states that she believes that Rennard should apologise before taking his seat in the Lords. A slight alteration from we comments on Friday, and a very welcome one indeed.
I had to think long and hard about blogging about this, because clearly things have gotten really heated - not surprising really because it's a really serious issue. I wouldn't have blogged, because I don't think another talking head on this issue is particularly helpful, but I had dinner with Lorely Burt MP on Friday night, and her reaction to some of our questions was really interesting.
As part of the LGA's 'Next Generation' programme, Lorely joined us for dinner on Friday night. I need to caveat everything, with the fact that she was ultimately a really nice person and it sounds as though she does a great job as MP for Solihull. After dinner was finished, we had the chance to ask her some questions, and the key one for me was what she thought about the Chris Rennard issue, considering she's pretty likely to be our next Deputy Leader in the House. After discussing the issue with a colleague, we decided to ask.
She said that she felt really uncomfortable talking about it - exactly what I'd expected her to say - but then she said that she was very close to him and that she felt that Lord Rennard had been treated incredibly badly. This was the bit I didn't understand. First, she could have not said anything, and nobody would have pressed her, and second, Lord Rennard has been through a party process. I don't think he's been treated badly, in fact, I think there are a whole lot of people who have been treated badly, and he isn't one of them.
The concern for me, is that a lot of people are throwing their lot in with Lorely's campaign for Deputy Leadership, because, as she's said herself, she wants to make history as a female deputy leader. That really appealed to me, because I emphatically believe that our party needs a culture change from the top down. This whole sorry mess has been created by the fact that we haven't had high enough standards, and we haven't had proper processes to protect people (not just women, either). For people supporting her on those grounds, I'm sorry, but I question it. If we need culture change, we also need somebody in this position who won't be influenced by who their friends are. For me, we need somebody there who will break up the status quo.
It seems clear that part of the problem with the entire Rennard issue, is that one man was allowed to get into a position of such incredible power. What this means, I'd argue, is that a large number of people won't have a bad word said against Chris Rennard, because they owe their careers to him. There's a nasty feeling of closing ranks. To me, what matters more is the fact that we have a group of women who have already had, and may still have incredibly successful political careers within our party, they deserve justice.
So, I'd ask that Lorely Burt clarifies exactly what her thoughts are on the Rennard issue, because it's of material importance. Of course, we don't get a vote, but I think it's important that people know the truth. Lorely shouldn't be seen badly because of association - I'm not suggesting that - but party members and the brave women involved deserve to know exactly what her thoughts are, whether she agrees with Nick and what our party needs to do to move on from this horror.
* I also had to consider whether I should post this because it was a comment made over dinner, but on reflection, it was a comment made in front of a pretty large part of people that she'd never met before, and thus I don't consider it a private conversation.