Eleven months ago the Liberal Democrat world was tipped on its axis when Channel 4 broadcast reports from women making serious allegations of sexual harassment against one of the Party’s most senior, loved and respected figures. As the sorry tale unfolded it was clear that the party had failed to deal with the complaints they had made and had failed to let anyone involved in the terrible situation get justice. It became clear that we, as an organisation, had a cultural problem and no idea of how to get our house in order.
As one would expect – if you know Lib Dems at all – the grassroots spoke, and James Shaddock set up a Facebook group called “Rock the Boat.” It grew rapidly and now has over 400 Liberal Democrat members. The idea was that sometimes you have to say or do uncomfortable things to stop sexual harassment – whether that is to speak out about your own experiences, write policy motions, tell your friends if you think they are behaving inappropriately, or even reflect on your own actions and behaviours and perhaps change them after some soul searching and analysis. Sadly, eleven months ago it became quite obvious that when people had spoken up on sexual harassment, they had been told “Don’t Rock the Boat” – hence the name.
Since last February, Rock the Boat has run a hugely successful fringe event at Conference, and the party has received the Morrissey report and started to implement Helena’s findings, including the very welcome appointment of the party’s new Pastoral Care Officer, Jeanne Tarrant. Progress has been made, and we are proud that as a party we are being brave enough to face up to the problems of the past and present, but we still have more work to do.
Rock the Boat is now run by a collective of 6 volunteers, Chris White, Katherine Bavage, Callum Leslie, Jane Manning, James King and I. As a group we are swamped by the volume of ideas from our membership regarding how to move this forward. The Rock the Boat movement is absolutely clear that we want sexual harassment within our party to be unacceptable, and on the rare occasions when it happens it must be dealt with promptly, using systems of restorative justice.
We are also clear that these problems are by no means unique to the Liberal Democrats, and we will not rest until the rest of the Westminster Bubble recognises that we are the political party that has put our house in order and is now ahead of the game.
The party is currently in a difficult situation. We are all uncertain about the future, so precisely where the Rocking Boat will be sailing to next I cannot say for sure. But what is clear is that our membership spans young and old, male and female, and a wide variety of social and ethnic backgrounds. We are talking to SAOs in the party such as Liberal Women, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, Liberal Youth and LGBT+ Liberal Democrats and will continue to seek to work with them in the future.
We are very clear in the belief that sexual harassment is a complex issue and both men and women can be victims or perpetrators, and it affects people of all races, sexualities and genders.
Currently there is significant media coverage about one man. That is not, for Rock the Boat, the main issue. We believe that as a party we must look to the future and make sure we as are a party become a safer, better educated and more supportive place to be.