Lib Dems won in spite of, not because of, party elite

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About 30 years ago the company which then owned this esteemed organ – Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers – was having a vexing time with unions.

It decided to recruit an industrial relations specialist – a professional dispenser of soothing lubricant over turbulent waters.

Ben Stoneham was the gentleman’s name, and he proved an affable fellow supremely adept at listening to everyone’s point of view – which was the whole point of his job, of course.

You always left a chat with Ben feeling he understood how you felt – so it came as no surprise to me to discover that he was a committed Liberal Democrat.

He became supremo of P&SN’s operation in the south until the company was taken over by its present owners – at which point I lost track of his career path.

He eventually became a member of the Lib Dem inner sanctum – before emerging as Lord Stoneham of Droxford a few years later.

That’s right, the same peer who has now found himself involved in the unseemly imbroglio surrounding allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women by his chum, Lord Rennard.

Ben (he will forgive me for dispensing with titles) is alleged to have made an ‘aggressive’ phone call to a former party activist.

He was reported by the Daily Mail to be furious after she complained to that newspaper that allegations she made 10 years ago of witnessing the aforementioned Rennard molesting a party member had been swept under the carpet.

In canine terms, I always had Ben down as more of a King Charles spaniel than a pit bull terrier, so that conversation would have been worth hearing.

If there is any truth in it however (and he is reported by the Mail to have been rebuked by the party’s chief whip) it goes to show the extent of the turmoil within the Liberal Democrats over the Rennard affair.

Their success at the Eastleigh by-election was achieved by a powerful constituency machine, and a candidate who was well-known and well trusted by the electorate.

They won in spite of – not because of – Clegg and his party elite.