Chris Davies MEP has today repeated his claim that Lord Rennard, who’s currently refusing to apologise for the sexual harassment he (allegedly) perpetrated against female Lib Dem party activists, “is not Jimmy Savile.

In the interview with the BBC’s Daily Politics show Davies went on to say: “Even if the crimes, alleged offences, did take place, and he of course denies it, this is not an evil man in any sense at all, he’s a good decent man.

Meanwhile, according to Michael White at the Guardian “a clammy hand on the knee” is not quite the same thing as “slavery, female genital mutilation and other horrors (that) are still widely inflicted on women,” and we probably need to all calm down a bit and get a sense of proportion, because, quite frankly old boy, “some of the language has been hysterical on both sides.”

So that’s that cleared up for us then.

As far as this narrative goes Lord Rennard is a good decent man even if he is guilty of crimes against women, because at the end of the day he’s not Jimmy Savile; and anyway, any offences he did commit couldn’t have been that bad because at the end of the day he didn’t enslave any women or mutilate their genitals….

Seriously, are these the best arguments the old boys’ network can come up with when defending one of their own? “He may have done a bad thing but hey, look over there at all these even worse things men do to women! Be grateful all he did was stroke a women’s knee or pinch her arse, cos if he’d been really really evil, like Jimmy Savile evil, he could have infibulated or raped her.”

It really is a case of “with friends like these…”

I think what all Rennard’s defenders seem to be missing is that actually, no one has accused him of being Jimmy Savile, just as no one has accused him of perpetrating FGM or slavery. But the fact he hasn’t done those things does not make what he did do okay. The fact that there are worst crimes on the statute books, and ‘evil’ men who have done much much worse than Rennard, does not therefore mean he should automatically get a free pass.

All of this nauseating pro-Rennard apologia is an attempt at minimising the very real harms done to women, and once again at silencing women’s voices. It’s the ‘calm down dear‘ approach to damage limitation. In fact you can almost feel the pat on the head accompanying some of these pronouncements from his fellow patriarchs, pronouncements that tell women their piddling concerns and their experiences at the hands of these-men-who-aren’t-Savile aren’t important or serious enough to bother about.

Even Steve Richards in the Independent has jumped on what I’m calling ‘the Savile defence’, claiming: “Rennard has occasionally been included in reports that also contain references to the likes of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. In his case, the allegations are serious, but in a different, and much lower, league.”

As has Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail: “Aside from the general ineptitude of this behaviour (women do generally like chocolate, but I’ve never heard of anyone having sex in exchange for it), this hardly puts him in the Jimmy Savile category, does it?

No it doesn’t Sarah, but then as far as I can tell no one has ever claimed that it does.

As Monday’s nail-on-the-head Guardian editorial pointed out:

“This is the attitude of people who do not recognise that there is a continuum of abuse where the entry level is the kind of mild sexual harassment that leaves the victim not sure whether to laugh and risk encouraging it, or protest and look humourless or even – as Mr Clegg clumsily had it in his Today programme interview – shrill. The inappropriate contact and the overfamiliar personal remark are just small markers in a sick ecology by which the exercise of power over the vulnerable is legitimised.”

So no, Lord Rennard is not Jimmy Savile, just as he’s not Fred WestPeter Sutcliffe or Marc Dutroux either. But the offences he (allegedly) committed are on the continuum of abuse that the Guardian editorial refers to, and as such warrant a bit more than the non-apology statement-of -regret currently on offer.

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