Clegg, ‘cover up’ and a Cameron come back

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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The Eastleigh by-election – the result of which could have a huge effect on the future of the coalition Government – has suddenly sprung into life.

Even though the reason for it happening at all was the resignation of the shamed Chris Huhne, it had seemed his party, the Liberal Democrats, would retain it later this week.

But the Lib Dems are no longer a shoo-in. And the twists and turns over the accusations concerning Lord Rennard reflect badly on Nick Clegg.

With the party and its leader now engulfed in this potential scandal over alleged inappropriate behaviour towards women by Lord Rennard – allegations he fiercely denies – and the surprise opinion poll surge by the Conservatives which puts them four points ahead of the Lib Dems in the constituency, the outcome is beginning to look too close to call.

This constituency used to be true blue, and it would be a huge feather in the cap of the Prime Minister if the Tories reclaimed. It would restore some spirit to the Conservative backbenches, where in recent months there has been an easily discernible demonstration of mistrust and disappointment at David Cameron’s leadership.

So a Tory win at Eastleigh would do wonders, in terms of morale, for the party – but it would also be a severe and damaging jolt to Clegg. His own position in the Rennard story appears to be compromised. The big question has been: how long has he been aware of these allegations?

Clegg himself has insisted he became aware of them only a matter of hours before they were broadcast on Channel 4 last week. He has now admitted he was aware of concerns raised some five years ago but insists there was no cover-up. So what is the correct version?

Big deal! An MEP called Marta Andreasen has defected from Ukip to join the Conservatives.

Her duty now should be to resign her seat as MEP for South-East England and create a by-election to give her constituents a chance to decide if they want to keep her flying under different colours (even if she were selected to fight the seat by the Tories, which is by no means certain).

But the likelihood is that she will not budge. Politicians who defect from one party to another in midstream, so to speak, rarely do. The fact of the matter is that most MPs are elected not on personal grounds but for the party they represent.

Since the parties of candidates are now included on ballot forms, I would have thought it incumbent on defectors to resign in these circumstances. It is little short of scandalous that constituents should have to tolerate a member belonging to a party which a majority of voters may have rejected at the previous election.

But you would never get a politician arguing that this should happen. One MP let the cat out of the bag recently: “We all do it...”