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.