Readers may not all be familiar with ‘Rock the Boat – Lib Dems against sexual harassment’ given our semi-unofficial status within the party. We are not a formal association or SAO and we are mostly organised through networking and a private facebook group.
Launched in early 2013 in response to the first Channel 4 allegations about Lord Rennard’s behaviour, the group was a response from grassroots members to a fervent desire that the issues raised be thoroughly addressed in the party.
It has been a long twenty months since then, with the unfolding stages of the Morrissey Inquiry and subsequent complaints and membership suspension, appeal and reinstatement of Lord Rennard as a party member. In parallel was a case of Mike Hancock MPs inappropriate behaviour toward a constituent, and long delays again in discovering who had known what at the local, regional and federal levels, and where responsibility and accountability lay.
As a party we have come some way in this time, but there is still much to be done. The recommendations of the Morrissey Report have begun to be implemented – the appointment and subsequent work of Jeanne Tarrant as pastoral care office has been important and welcome, and the recent intention to ensure gender balance at the highest levels of our organisational governance though controversial to some is a good indicator of the direction of travel.
That is why Rock the Boat felt it was so important for all the Presidential Candidates to be asked about and have the chance to demonstrate their engagement with these issues and their intentions in addressing them if elected. There is simply too much at stake in the next two years in which they will serve.
May 2015 will prove to be a testing time for the party, and it is important in the aftermath that we do not turn inwards and undo the tentative steps we have begun to take. We must become more inclusive not less; listen more not less; rely on opening ourselves up to new ways of doing things and move away from over-trusting or over-relying individuals and towards greater scrutiny and accountability.
The reform of the party’s structures to protect members – both by preventing harassment and holding thoroughly accountable those that may perpetuate it, is truly vital and must not be eclipsed by naval gazing or panic in the wake of the bad results we may see. Our next President must understand that to truly hold our nerve and endure as a political force we must live by the high standards we set. We must never again allow ourselves to be in the position where our MPs forgot or failed to deal with complaints, or local parties protected those who failed to meet the high standards of behaviour in public office.
If you would like to become more involved in Rock the Boat you can request to be a member of the closed facebook group, follow us at @LDRockTheBoat on twitter or email [email protected].
* Katherine Bavage is regional secretary for Yorkshire and the Humber and Wikipedia user Leela0808