Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dating with scissors

I suspect that Susan Gaszczak's scissors are the only ones playing that dangerous dance around her membership card right about now. Nor do I suspect that it is merely female Liberal Democrats who find their membership cards dating scissors just now.

For the last year there has been a sense of unease within the party. There have been some who no matter what think that nobody in power within in our party, or maybe just no Lord Rennard, could have possibly done anything that the accuses were saying went on. There were others who had the knives drawn from the first mention. But by in large the vast majority of the party were waiting to see what the findings of the investigation was before making a statement.

By quirk of the nature of the job I was in when the news broke I had to be in that silent set. When all the paid party staff who were down in Eastleigh were called into a meeting I was one of only two not in that meeting. After all the by election head quarters was still open and those of who who were the front of house team had to still be there so that most of the activists didn't know that something was about to break. There was shock within our HQ that night, but everybody picked themselves up knowing we had a job to do to retain the seat and got back to that pretty quickly. We after all were not going to get any answers of conclusion about this until well after the votes had been counted, but we had to get our message out there despite Channel 4's Cathy Newman doing her best to get out a different message.

It was of course Cathy who interviewed Susan Gaszczak tonight, Susan who had waived the anonymity that most victims in such cases are guaranteed and indeed the Alistair Webster QC said that he would not be releasing all the evidence he had to look at to protect those "credible" statements. So part of the reason that many in the party are seeing those scissors entertaining membericide is that those complainants are having to go public about the sexual advances they say they suffered.

But when the Whip in the Lords dismisses such advances as something that happens in any workplace there is shock amongst the membership that those in authority don't get it. But the "it" that they have not got is something that most members look at as a fundamental of who we are. In the preamble to our constitution it states:

We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full.

But when that breaks down and one of our peers Lord Carlile states on Channel 4 last night that his friend Lord Rennard has no need to apologise, we are gobsmacked. When he goes further to say that there were 100 bits of evidence in support of Rennard and only 4 from complainants he is ignoring the well-being of individuals.

Now those of us who have accepted that we have to be in coalition, know that we have to compromise on policy here and there. But when the leaders fundamentally don't get the principles protecting individuals, equality and freedom that our policies are based upon and that is writing through most of the activists like Blackpool rock.

We are trying to tell the nation that we want a fairer society yet the man who taught most of us, directly or indirectly, how to get out message across is currently damaging the brand with his lack of apology. Indeed if you read Lord Rennard's statement from last night (which for the sake of political completeness appears to be printed and promoted by a high charging lawyers firm) you would almost expect that he was triumphant. Instead of course Alistair Webster said he would have to consider his behaviour in future and apologise to the women concerned, hardly triumphant, hardly without there being something, just not enough to assume beyond a reasonable doubt there was intent on Lord Rennard's part.

But whether there was evidence of intent or not, which is a very high benchmark which sadly does little to protect an individual against a powerful figure for acts that most often are carried out in private. There comes the crux of the matter.

There are sycophants who do not see the fact that Lord Rennard has been told to consider his behaviour and to apologise. People like that further make the party feel unsafe to those who already felt that way.

But then we come to issue that Lord Rennard wants to return to his positions in the party, but of course he isn't the only one with positions in the party. So those of us, including Susan as Chair of Conference Committee or myself on LGBT+ Exec, who are facing those scissors but also have positions within the party cover a lot more ground that one individual.

Nick Clegg may be facing a revolt in the Lords if he orders the whip is not restored to Lord Rennard, but I suspect that he faces an even bigger revolt within the membership, candidates and activists if he doesn't. The first group need the party to justify their jobs for life (or until we reform the Lords), the latter however the party needs.

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