Former political adviser lifts lid on sexism during Lib Dem scandal

Lord Rennard.
Lord Rennard.

A Bedford woman embroiled in the Lib Dem sexual harrassment crises has spoken out about a “pervasive culture of sexism” in Westminster.

Bridget Harris says the scandal has implications for working women as the message being sent implies being groped is part of the job.

Bridget Harris.

Bridget Harris.

The former political advisor to Nick Clegg now runs a business in Bedford and is involved with projects that help young people in business.

She said: “This is not just about the hand on the knee.

“Young men and women shouldn’t be expected to put up with opportunistic advances. There’s legislation to protect them, and in most work places it is taken seriously.

“In this instance the Lib Dems have failed. The party focussed on managing the women who were complaining, not the man who was groping them.”

Ms Harris’ complaint dates back to 2003 when she was working as a political advisor to the Lib Dems at the Welsh Assembly. She said Lord Rennard made a series of unwanted advances, touching her leg and inviting her to his room at a conference.

She said: “He was the second most important figure in the Lib Dems. We were in a professional setting but he took advantage of that.”

Lord Rennard denies any wrong doing.

Bridget Harris says she went public with her allegation to “show solidarity” with the other complainants.

She reported the incident with Lord Rennard to her manager in 2003 but was unaware of the other allegations.

She said: “I didn’t know about the other women until Channel 4 broke the news last year. I came forward to show solidarity and because I was worried that Lord Rennard was being invited to conferences and being allowed to mentor young people.”

Ms Harris has since left the Lib Dem party but remains scathing about the culture at Westminster.

She said: “I don’t see this in local government. I’ve worked with hundreds of councillors and there is simply not this institutionally sexist culture.

“Parliamentarians should uphold the highest standards and there should be a strong message to young women in all workplaces that they should be judged on performance, not on a tolerance to lecherous men.”

Throughout the scandal, Chris Rennard, 53, has denied doing anything wrong.

An independent inquiry concluded claims against him could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt despite ruling the women’s evidence was ‘broadly credible’.

However, it, and several senior party members, urged the peer to apologise.

Lord Rennard, who married in 1989, said he is unable to apologise.

He has been suspended from the party and faces further investigation into whether he has bought the Lib Dems into disrepute by refusing to apologise.

He has instructed a QC and will apply for an injunction “within days” unless the inquiry is called off.