27 February 2013
Last updated at 17:15 ET
A former Liberal Democrat activist is set to meet police over what she describes as a “very, very serious” incident involving the former chief executive of the party, Lord Rennard.
Alison Smith, now a lecturer at Oxford University, has accused the peer of sexually inappropriate behaviour.
“People have been talking about hands on the knee, and things like that. It was very much more serious than that,” she told the BBC.
Lord Rennard denies the allegations.
She said she had left the Liberal Democrat party as a consequence of how it had dealt with the claims against Lord Rennard, who as a senior strategist was “responsible for all campaign financing”.
This was a “very important” role, she said, because the Lib Dems “target seats very closely; they don’t otherwise have enough resources to compete in the first-past-the-post system”.
She said she had decided to go public with the claims against Lord Rennard because she was “very worried that he would make a comeback”, and will discuss the allegations with the police on Thursday.
“Even people that you think of as very senior MPs,” she said, “even they’re very scared of this man, because he at some point had been in a position to make or break their careers and he might again in the future.”
Asked whether aspiring Lib Dem MPs had been put in “casting-couch” scenarios, she said: “I don’t think it was that precise.
“There was never a formal kind of ‘you’re up for a specific job, and you won’t get this job if you don’t comply’. But the phrase that I heard was ‘favoured daughters’.
“And certainly… a lot of people have batted him off and gone on to do well anyway. A lot of people have put up with a lot over the years, and I definitely wouldn’t want anybody trying to work out who has been casting-couched or who hadn’t been.
“It was just a feeling that we had that if you would do what he wanted then you could get a lot out of it and if you didn’t then there could be consequences.”
Ms Smith, a politics lecturer, said her experiences had left her feeling “horrified when my students started talking about a career in the Liberal Democrats”.
Earlier, the party reprimanded Lib Dem peer Lord Stoneham following reports he telephoned and angrily remonstrated with one of the women who had complained to newspapers about Lord Rennard’s conduct.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s aides said he regarded Lord Stoneham’s conduct as “completely unacceptable.”
Lord Rennard quit his party role in 2009 and, over the last week, he has faced accusations of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards a number of female activists.
Police have spoken to party officials about the claims, and are working to establish whether or not any criminal behaviour had taken place.
But senior Lib Dem Baroness Williams called Lord Rennard a “very fine man”. The situation had been “hopelessly exaggerated”, she said.
During a phone-in on LBC Radio on Wednesday, Mr Clegg admitted that concerns over Lord Rennard’s behaviour had been “in the background” when he resigned, but added that he had heard no concrete allegations until last week.
In previous statements, Lord Rennard has said he is “deeply shocked” by the allegations and described them as a “total distortion” of his character.
The peer said he knew of no complaints against him in his 27 years working for the party but he has temporarily stood aside from the Lib Dem group in the Lords to avoid “embarrassment” to the party.