Lord Rennard Allegations Are 'Just A Clumsy Pass' Says Lib Dem Candidate

Allegations of sexual harassment by a senior Liberal Democrat amount to "a clumsy pass" and have been "blown out of all proportion," a party candidate has said.

Jasper Gerard claimed the "pretty historical" issue was being "dredged up" because of Thursday's Eastleigh by-election.

Gerard, who is bidding to become the next MP for Maidstone & the Weald, is a former Lib Dem speechwriter who has written a biography of Nick Clegg.

He was speaking to the BBC's World At One as the Liberal Democrats battled damaging claims they had not taken seriously the complaints against Lord Rennard, who has denied the allegations.

Clegg has admitted he was aware of complaints against Rennard in 2008, but insists this is the first time "specific" allegations have been made.

Gerard said the allegations were "clearly serious" and would be "completely inappropriate" if proved.

But he added: "All I would say is, as a journalist I was always taught to ask 'why are we being told this now, who benefits from it?'

"It's very noticeable that all these allegations are coming out just before the Eastleigh by-election, which is poised on a knife-edge."

Sections of the Conservative Party and the right-wing media had never accepted the idea of a coalition government, Gerard said.

He went on: "We also do need to take some kind of degree of perspective about this. It sounds like it's a bit of inappropriate behaviour, a clumsy pass which I am not remotely defending, but I think we shouldn't be treating it as some kind of major major crisis.

"It's just something that's unfortunate but is being blown out of all proportion."

The allegations came about following a Channel 4 News investigation.

Gerard added: "We are still now going on about whether somebody put his hand or didn't put his hand on somebody's knee. This isn't a Jimmy Savile case revisited."

"He hasn't even been chief executive of the party for four years - are we going to start dredging up things that Lloyd George did? This is pretty historic."

Gerard was criticised on Twitter for his interview, in which he also claimed the women involved were being "patronised" and portrayed as "young damsels" in a "Edwardian melodrama".

"Most are quite capable if someone does make an inappropriate pass at them to put that person in their place pretty sharply."

Speaking on the same programme, Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader, said he would not form a judgment until the investigation had been finished.

And he too suggested the allegations had emerged for party political reasons.

He said: "Some of the allegations, people can speculate as to why they have suddenly surfaced - a couple of weeks before a by-election, seems pretty strange to me."