Many will know that I was a member of staff at Lib Dem party HQ between 2009 and 2011. It gave me quite an insight to the party machine, to the way things work procedurally and also to how certain people are treated. I’ve not got many good things to say about the Lib Dems, as people know, so to dismiss any allegation that this post is partisan I’ll simply say that the problems they are facing at the moment are certainly not solely a Lib Dem problem. More a male politician problem.

I’ve expressed my distaste at Lord Rennard’s refusal to apologise and I applaud the many Lib Dems who have spoken out, particularly the women who brought this all forward. I have privately expressed to others my utter disdain for the way we were all told of Rennard’s departure as Chief Executive. In fact, around the time this rather sickeningly sycophantic article was written, we were all dragged into the Cowley St meeting room. What a round of applause he was given after he told he was standing down solely on the grounds of health (and nothing else). It stands in stark contrast to Baroness Scott’s later admission that she a) was aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour and b) she considered them to be of such significance she instigated a review of the party’s whistle-blowing procedures.

As a gay man, it’s often joked that we have a legal duty to pretend to be the boyfriend of women friends/colleagues who find themselves on the wrong end of a sleazy advance. The number of times I have found myself in this position at a party conference dwarfs any other scenario. Of course, that’s not to slander all men as lecherous slimy types who won’t take no for an answer, but it seems to be a sad trend with men in politics that their ego manifests itself in rather unpleasant ways. I remember one specific occasion where a former colleague of mine found herself in in that situation. This wasn’t from a mere member, but from somebody on the list of approved PPCs. He was making his intentions quite clear, offered to buy her a drink, she asked for a non-alcoholic one, he bought her wine, and whilst he wasn’t looking I helped said colleague dispose of it. It’s difficult to express the level of creepiness in words, but let’s just say I felt so uncomfortable about his approach I was quite insistent on walking the colleague back to her hotel room.

I’ve since tried to rationalise why I’ve seen this type of person in politics moreso than anywhere else. My only conclusion is hubris. Politics attracts people who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread, who seek authority and control, who think themselves indestructable. I suppose it’s not much of a leap for somebody to be so hubristic, they couldn’t comprehend for one second that a woman might want to be treated as an equal and not somebody who wants to have sex with them.

It’s for the Lib Dems to decide where they go from here on this specific case and I wish members well in fighting for an excellent cause, but it really is the tip of the iceberg. The behaviour described in the allegations is far more endemic than this one isolated case and if any good comes out of this sad episode, I hope it’s that men of all parties who once thought themselves invincible in the conference bar now think twice about their actions.

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2 thoughts on “My comments and experiences on recent Lib Dem difficulties”

Steven Rhodes · January 18, 2014 at 1:17 am

Chris, you state Ros Scott “a) was aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour and b) she considered them to be of such significance she instigated a review of the party‚Äôs whistle-blowing procedures.” But that’s not what the report in your link says. Indeed there is a notable absence of a link between your a) and b) in the clip.

An allegation may be serious enough to cause a review of procedures: but that’s a long step short of making enough evidence for a charge. And if, as Alison Smith said, Rennard was forced out because of the allegations, that doesn’t mean, either, that there was enough evidence for a prosecution. Because how do you have a prosecution without a formal complaint? In politics the allegation alone is sufficient to be damaging; that’s cause enough for him to be forced to step down. However a review of the procedures was the right thing to do, wasn’t it? Even with no such complaint.

So, what’s a formal complaint? Well, I’m guessing It’s a complaint, in writing, which reads ‘This is a formal complaint.’ If there’d have been one of these from the start, things would have been a lot clearer, wouldn’t they? It strikes me here that people are happy to sling allegations of cowardice in others but themselves were happy to be dealt with informally at the time.

I mention this because I am in agreement with the thrust of your article of the unpleasant behaviour of many men in politics. But unfairly suggesting inappropriate behaviour in another woman is hardly a step forward.

admin · January 18, 2014 at 11:43 am

What Ros said was reported at the time by Channel 4. This isn’t recent.

My distaste comes from the fact many of us felt lied to about his reasons for standing down, but even if we weren’t, the grand and expensive send off we gave him really is deeply inappropriate for a man with questions hanging over his head.

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