Where Rennard’s reputation as a genius originated
The spectacle of Paddy Ashdown vying for votes in the Eastleigh by-election today prompts a recollection that the former Lib Dem leader almost deprived his party of the first significant by-election victory of its 25 year history. After the Tory MP Ian Gow had been murdered by the IRA, in 1990, Ashdown thought it would be statesmanlike not to contest the resulting Eastbourne by election. He changed his mind after getting a very stiff memo from one of his staff.
It began: “I am appalled that you were thinking of issuing a statement without consulting the person responsible for organizing the party’s by-election campaigns, i.e. me” and warned that Ashdown would be a “laughing stock” if he allowed the Tories a walkover in a seat the Lib Dems could win. They did win, causing a political shock wave that hastened the fall of Margaret Thatcher. The author of that memo, whom Ashdown hailed in his memoirs as a ‘genius’, was the little known Chris Rennard.
That was the foundation of Rennard’s reputation as the great by-election wizard. It was his ability to foresee and organize victories like that one which made the Lib Dem hierarchy unwilling to hear anything bad about him.
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