There are some who are muttering in corners about the timing of Chris Rennard's announcement that he is stepping down as Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. I am surprised that, given his health issues, it hasn't happened before now. We'd all expected that the General Election would have happened by now and many of us knew that when it came, it would most likely mean that we'd lose Chris at least on a full time basis.
I first met him in 1995 during the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election (where the defeated Labour candidate was one Phil Woolas, the Home Office Minister responsible for the Government's Gurkhas fiasco) but his reputation was already legendary by then. This is the man who was responsible for devising the campaigns which won us, amongst others, the Eastbourne, Eastleigh, Newbury, Christchurch and Romsey by-elections. When Chris Rennard started working full time for the Party in 1982, we had barely a dozen MPs, now we have nearly 100 Parliamentarians across the Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff and European parliaments. Countless local councillors also owe their seats to the techniques he devised and refined over the years.
I don't pretend that he always got it right, or that I always agreed with him on everything, because I didn't, but he's one of the people I have most respect for in the Party. He's a genius - the James Carville of the UK, if you like, and if he believed in a candidate and their team, he would make sure that they had the backing they needed to fight a winning campaign. He could be audacious, seeing opportunities in what to others seemed hopeless cases and was the sort of guy who could turn a 23000 Tory majority into a Lib Dem gain in a few short weeks.
The Party has a lot to thank Chris for and I hope that he will be able to continue giving us the benefit of his wise words in a way which respects his health needs for some time.