Alison Goldsworthy quits party saying it’s no place for “women who want to deliver change”

In an interview with The Times newspaper (£), Alison Goldsworthy said that she had resigned from the Federal Executive of the Liberal Democrats, of which she was Vice Chair. She has since confirmed to us that she had resigned from the Party. This means that none of the four women who made allegations of improper behaviour against Chris Rennard  remains a member of the party. Chris Rennard denies the specific allegations but issued an apology to the women in May in which he expressed his “his regret for any harm or embarrassment caused to them or anythingwhich made them feel uncomfortable.”

Alison described the events which led to her complaint:

She alleges that in 2004, when she was a 21-year-old candidate in the European elections, she posed for a group photo after a black tie event. She was stood next to Lord Rennard, then Lib Dem chief executive, and was wearing a long, backless dress.

She says that he put his hand down her gown and inside her knickers, past “extremely intimate” areas.

“There was no way it was an accident or that I had invited such an approach,” she claimed. “I couldn’t believe what had happened.”

At the time she did not make an official complaint to the party. She says that the peer was powerful and she did not want to be known for “making a scene”. She was also preoccupied with looking after her ill mother.

Frustrated by the party’s inaction, last year she agreed to take part in the Channel 4 programme. She has been appalled by the subsequent response.

She added that the outlook for women in the party was bleak.

Ms Goldsworthy said the consequences for female activists were deeply depressing. “The thing that makes me really sad is there’s no way I could advise a woman who was a liberal and aspiring to stand for parliament to put herself forwards,” she said.

“If she encounters a problem or there are abuses of power she wouldn’t be taken seriously.” She has resigned from the federal executive and is preparing to leave the party. She said: “I can see no place for me – or any women who want to deliver change – in a party that behaves like this.”

Earlier this week, Party President Tim Farron sought to reassure people that the party’s processes were going to change.  He stands down at the end of new year having completed the maximum two terms in office. Linda Jack, Liz Lynne and  Sal Brinton. who are competing to succeed him have put forward their own views as to what should happen in the future. Linda’s piece is here,  Sal’s here and Liz’s here.

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78 Comments

  • Ruth Bright 24th Aug '14 - 1:15pm

    Still our female MPs say nothing.

  • Paul Pettinger 24th Aug '14 - 1:34pm

    What devastatingly sad news. I am so sorry Alison has left.

  • John Tracey 24th Aug '14 - 2:15pm

    If he cared about the party, he would put it before himself and walk away.

  • paul barker 24th Aug '14 - 2:34pm

    This is a tragedy. I would appeal to everyone who has left over the Rennard affair to return; most of us are behind you. Rennard cant, it seems be removed but he has no future in our Party. He is just another of those people who used to be important, every organisation has them.
    Of course our Party has to change but good people leaving wont make that change come any faster.

  • Was it worth losing four high profile women just to keep one man in the party?

  • Richard Dean 24th Aug '14 - 4:05pm

    @John Tracey
    You may as well say: “If she cared about the party, she would put it before herself and stay”.

    She would recognize that Tim’s statement has real meaning, and that a very good place to effect change is from within, and particularly from an influential position within.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th Aug '14 - 4:41pm

    Very, very regrettable. I agree with the other posts especially those of Paul, John and ‘g’.

  • This is very sad news

  • That’s terribly sad.

  • If his hand went where she says it did then it is unequivocally a matter for the police. The allegation as described would constitute sexual assault. Various celebrities have recently been arrested and charged for just such historical offences. I believe Alison Goldsworthy did indeed make a complaint to the police. They carried out an investigation, as part of which they spoke to the other women involved in order to see if a case could be built. They decided there wasn’t enough evidence even to pass it to the CPS let alone to press charges.

    Should Coronation Street sack the actor who plays Ken Barlow because there were allegations against him? Should Emmerdale sack the actor against whom an allegation of rape was made recently? Are these soaps “unsafe places for women” and we should all boycot them? The Ken Barlow guy was found not guilty and the Emmerdale guy was investigated but had no charges brought. Why? Because the evidence against them was not strong enough so they are presumed innocent. That so many members of the Liberal Democrats seem eager to throw away one of the defining principles of a liberal democracy is, frankly, shocking. Is this still the same party that had the guts to object to control orders?!

  • Catherine, the Liberal Democrats are a political party, not a branch of the legal system. They have the right to choose who they admit and retain as members, and are not restricted to standards of proof required in criminal law when undertaking disciplinary measures against any member.

    In this case the party was prepared to stand by and let four women leave, despite the acknowledged credibility of their accusations, rather than sacrifice one man, taking the subsequent hit on their public reputation, at a time of already record unpopularity.

    This is not the rational action of a party with a survival instinct. Especially one with a terrible record of electing women to parliament.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Aug '14 - 9:19am

    I can understand the bitterness of the women concerned, and that resigning and saying these things is a way of saying “Yes, it really did happen as I said it happened”.

    However, I remain of the opinion that the conclusions drawn are completely wrong. It seems to me that any organisation would have to do the same. We are faced with serious allegations being made, but no way to prove it happened as alleged and the person against whom those allegations were made resolutely denying it. If a person against whom such allegations were made were thrown out of their job on that basis, would not he have a right to appeal through an Employment Tribunal? Would not the line “an investigation took place, what was alleged was not proved, so disciplinary actions could go no further” be a firm defence?

    The fact that one person acted like this (and I say “fact” meaning that what I say next is on the basis that it was a fact, because I have to accept it wasn’t proved) does not mean all Liberal Democrat men are like this, and I resent the implication here that we are. There are plenty of conclusions I could draw on the behaviour of one person in an organisation that it would be completely unfair to generalise on and say it reflects on the whole organisation. On the matter of procedures, I don’t see this as reflecting anything in particular about the Liberal Democrats, unfortunately it would always hit the problem of “can’t be proved”.

    I really would hope that Rennard would damn the potential legal consequences and say more than the obviously carefully put through lawyers thing he has said, because I can see how frustrating it is to hear this, and we are all being unfairly damaged by that. I would like to hear something that shows his emotions. That might be a strong personal statement that makes clear he really does believe that he was stitched up and it didn’t happen like this, or an admission that yes he acted in a foolish way and an acceptance he should not have done that.

    I am saddened by the way when a bad thing happens in the Liberal Democrats it is always used to attack the party as a whole, as if it reflects on all of us, when I think if the same thing happened in Labour or the Conservatives it would not be treated in this way. The delight of various media outlets in pushing it this way (many of who have had similar internal issues themselves) shows that we have no real friends in the media.

  • g The party may not “be a branch of the legal system” but we still have to behave in a way compatible with legal and administrative standards. The key issue here is whether there was evidence even to the “on the balance of probabilities” level against him. Did Webster QC mean that he believed the evidence could be shown to be to that standard when he used the term “broadly credible”, or didn’t he want to nail his colours to the mast in that way? And then there is the persistent claim that our party’s disciplinary system can only look at evidence at the criminal “beyond reasonable doubt” standard in disciplinary / conduct cases. I personally do not believe that claim, and it would be interesting to know what those who say it cite as evidence.

  • Tony Dawson 25th Aug '14 - 9:58am

    @Catherine:

    “If his hand went where she says it did then it is unequivocally a matter for the police. ”

    Catherine, this is an extremely naive statement. If this experience had occurred in the circumstances described, even had the alleged victim screamed and confronted the alleged perpetrator, the evidence available for a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ conviction prosecution would have possibly been very shaky unless a witness saw the event. Referring such an issue to the police after the event would go nowhere unless there were a confession.

    Referring such matters to the police when this institution has systematically benefited from institutionalised long term sexual , apparently now endorsed by the useless CPS as not even being ‘misconduct in public office’, does seem to be somewhat strange.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/25/cps-police-spies-sexual-relations-under-cover-women-activists

  • Chris Randall 25th Aug '14 - 11:14am

    Well there you go CR has won hasn’t he, remember this and make sure if we get in power again ending the H of L is a red line issue please.

  • David Evershed 25th Aug '14 - 11:32am

    Alison Goldworthy quits party saying its no place for “women who want to deliver change”.

    Surely if she believes change is needed in the Lib Dems, then it is exactly where women who want change should be.

  • I agree, Rob. I didn’t know Ali very well, but she always seemed a very nice, very dynamic, considered person, and she will be a great loss to the Lib Dems. I didn’t know the other three, so cannot comment.

  • @ g
    So are you saying the party should just expel anyone against whom allegations are made, regardless of proof, because it’s politically expedient? The implication seems to be that anyone accused has to be able to prove their innocence. Even apart from the moral implications of that course of action, I imagine a lot of people would leave or withdraw support over such a total betrayal of principle. Do you think the Conservatives should have expelled Nigel Evans? There was stronger evidence of sexual assault / harassment against him than against CR but still not strong enough to find him guilty so he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt and therefore to be treated as if he is innocent. The same goes for CR.

    I’ll ask again, should Coronation Street sack Ken Barlow? The allegations against him were credible enough to mount a prosecution and Corrie is hardly a branch of the legal system.

  • peter tyzack 25th Aug '14 - 1:00pm

    The first job for the new Federal Exec and the new President will be to go and see each of the four and bring them back into the party. Then, albeit rather belatedly, address the list of alleged victims who didn’t go public..

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 25th Aug '14 - 1:18pm

    Thank you to the Voice for the above statements. Most party members will, I believe, have great sympathy for those former women members whose allegations [whatever they were in detail] were deemed insufficient for further action in British law. I don’t know how any Complaints Procedure can cover all specific situations but the larger issue is the law in general. Parliament has to make clear in law what ‘personal space’ it can protect and to do that it needs better representation from all sections of the population. This is not an LD issue – it is an issue for all citizens.

  • Richard Dean 25th Aug '14 - 2:08pm

    Catherine’s argument is persuasive. Now that all the allegations are in the public domain, and much of the defence, isn’t it time for the Webster report to be published?

  • @ Catherine

    “I’ll ask again, should Coronation Street sack Ken Barlow?”

    Yes, if a large percentage of their viewers had already deserted the show, putting its future in doubt, and if of the remaining viewers, a substantial number of women had been convinced that the show was thick with institutionalised sexism based on the number of male actors, also white, also middle-aged, who had immediately prioritised justice over recognition of the victims, and were threatening to turn off their televisions, too, as a consequence. If I were the producer I’d have told the entire cast that, while innocence until proven guilt was absolute, the public perception of supporting that line over recognition of the victims as victims was likely to prove utterly corrosive of the show’s reputation, potentially causing it to haemorrhage support at the worst possible time.

    After all, no one actor is bigger than the show: most producers would rather lose one actor than the entire cast.

  • Catherine, I’m not sure failings in other organisations or the outcomes of criminal trials justify the failings of the Liberal Democrats to demonstrate competence in dealing with allegations of sexual harassment.

    The only reason a political party exists is to further its aims through election.

    As a political party, do you think the outcome of the Rennard case makes the liberal democrats less electable? Do you think it undermines their aims on equality?

    I do, and so do plenty of other voters. I don’t think anyone has an improved view of your party after this.

  • Richard Dean 25th Aug '14 - 4:56pm

    @g
    The party comes across as incompetent at best. It apparently cannot deal transparently, clearly, justly, and decisively with allegations of offences including some that are probably quite common in real life, and which some in the electorate will regard as relatively trivial compared to other matters in the public domain.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 25th Aug '14 - 5:20pm

    The LDs can do one more personal thing before leaving government – namely, clarify the laws on invasion of ‘personal space’ – to the benefit of those who believe in respect.

  • Any decent PLC has a HR Policy to deal with such situations. Much business depends upon reputation. Consequently there are rules which enable people to be sacked if they bring a company into disrepute.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Aug '14 - 6:14pm

    Charlie

    Any decent PLC has a HR Policy to deal with such situations. Much business depends upon reputation. Consequently there are rules which enable people to be sacked if they bring a company into disrepute.

    The Liberal Democrats are not a PLC. We are a democratic organisation, we have members, not employees. As a democratic organisation we can’t make it as easy to expel a member as a PLC can to expel an employee – otherwise we would have the danger of anyone who disagrees with the leader being expelled, perhaps on some trumped-up charges.

    However, as I’ve said, even if we were a PLC and this was an employee facing disciplinary charges, don’t employees have rights? If you want to sack someone for disciplinary reasons, don’t you have to have some proof they did what they were alleged to have done?

    In any case, we are only talking here about Rennard being readmitted as a member. I doubt he is ever going to be given any sort of responsible post again. So in effect he HAS been sacked.

  • Some posters here seem confused about the difference between requiring the same standards of proof as in criminal law, and requiring somebody to have actually broken the law before being subject to a disciplinary procedure.

    Whether it can be proven that Rennard broke the law is irrelevant. In fact, whether anybody has even accused Rennard of breaking the law is irrelevant. The Lib Dem party rules (which I actually bothered to read) do not require a member to break the law before they can be thrown out.

    So when people like Catherine and Matthew declare Rennard’s “innocence”, what exactly do they mean? He may be innocent in the eyes of the law, but that is not the same as being “innocent” in the eyes of the Lib Dems’ labyrinthine membership rules.

    What we are left with is an utterly bizarre situation where there was apparently not enough evidence to charge Rennard for invading these women’s “personal space”, but there was enough evidence to charge him for failing to apologise for invading these women’s personal space! So all Rennard had to do was issue an apology and he was off the hook – even though, by issuing the apology, he has admitted what most people would consider to be a much worse offence that not apologising.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Aug '14 - 6:33pm

    Bolano

    Yes, if a large percentage of their viewers had already deserted the show, putting its future in doubt, and if of the remaining viewers, a substantial number of women had been convinced that the show was thick with institutionalised sexism based on the number of male actors, also white, also middle-aged, who had immediately prioritised justice over recognition of the victims, and were threatening to turn off their televisions, too, as a consequence.

    In some ways this gets to the heart of my concern.

    There hasn’t been a mass attack on Coronation Street, with enemies of the show going on about the allegations made about one actor and insisting that this means the whole show is full of such people. Other organisations which have faced the problem of a senior employee having serious allegations made against them, but the thing ending up with no formal charges because it can’t be proved, haven’t had that continuously taken up and thrown at them and used to suggest the whole organisation is rotten. The Conservative Party has not faced similar attacks over Nigel Evans, with suggestions that the whole party is rotten because of the allegations made against him over which he was acquitted.

    Why is it that the Liberal Democrats are facing such massive attacks over this? Why is the real dilemma faced over the “innocent until proven guilty” principle not mentioned at all in any of the media coverage, and our whole party is being attacked as having some terrible anti-woman attitude, as if Rennard had already been convicted and we had refused to take any action against him?

    I think the reason is obvious. There are people out there who want to destroy us. So they are very happy to report us in a negative one-sided way, to whip up difficult situations, to refuse to accept the dilemma we faced, and to make out there was some easy-peasy solution we could have adopted but did not. We don’t have friends in the media who will take our side as the other parties do. I’m very sorry that many member of the party do not seem to see this, and so have gone along with the one-sided media attacks.

  • Stephen Donnelly 25th Aug '14 - 6:41pm

    The existing party structures are clearly not able to deal with this. None of the alleged behaviour would be acceptable in any private or public organisation. We must open up the party, loosen the grip of of a small group of people (who have contributed enormously to past electoral success) and move with the times. We are in danger of becoming yesterday’s men.

  • Tsar Nicholas 25th Aug '14 - 8:41pm

    It seems to me that the presumption of innocence is removed and discarded whenever there is an allegation of sexual impropriety – at least that is what I conclude after reading so many of the posts on here.

  • If Alison resigned from the party over something inconsequential or minor or which could have been dealt with with a different response then I’ve known a different woman for 15ish years.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    “Why is it that the Liberal Democrats are facing such massive attacks over this? ”

    Because the government estimates 1 in 5 women over the age of 16 have experienced something of the sort or worse. It’s a major issue for women in a way it’s not for men (Nigel Evans) because the figures for me are so much smaller. It’s a huge, huge issue. And because of that, every time a man associated with the party argues that it’s not actually about what happened to the women, that it’s about justice, or enemies of the party using this for their own ends, or any other reason at all, it risks looking as if they don’t recognise exactly how huge an issue this is, that they’re in denial. I accept that this may not be the case (denial) – but that’s how it’s going to look to large sections of the electorate. And some members of the party. Denial or worse.

  • @ g & others advocating the political expediency route – even ignoring the morality of such an action (yes you’re right that this is politics after all!) I really doubt “sacrificing” Rennard would make the party look better. Expelling someone without sufficient evidence for something they deny doing rarely makes any organisation look good.

    If CR was kicked out do you really think everyone would be cheering? Instead of the current criticism there would simply be new criticism along the lines of “Why have you expelled this man when your own independent inquiry found insufficient evidence against him? Don’t you care about due process and presumption of innocence? Isn’t this yet another example of the LDs abandoning all their principles when it’s convenient?”

    If Coronation Street said “we know Ken Barlow was found not guilty but to hell with the law, we reckon he did it anyway and we’ve had some complaints about it so he’s off the show”, I’m pretty sure there would be an outcry. And as Matthew points out, if a PLC fired an employee without sufficient evidence of wrongdoing they could face a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Aug '14 - 9:34pm

    Stuart

    So when people like Catherine and Matthew declare Rennard’s “innocence”, what exactly do they mean?

    I mean what I said – that it has not been possible to prove he did what was alleged. If you are suggesting I am saying he definitely didn’t do it, no I am not.

    What we are left with is an utterly bizarre situation where there was apparently not enough evidence to charge Rennard for invading these women’s “personal space”, but there was enough evidence to charge him for failing to apologise for invading these women’s personal space!

    I don’t see this is particularly bizarre. If what happened was that Rennard touched these women, in a way they found offensive, but he did not mean it as they have accused him of meaning it, then he still ought to have apologised for it. And the statement he has made does just that. This happens all the time – if someone does something clumsy or inept or without due care, and thereby hurts someone else, they ought to apologise. I see the second charge as an appeal to reason “Look, you are denying you acted in a deliberately sexually aggressive way, but could you at least admit to having done more than just brushed against these women, and apologise for that?” in an attempt to reach some sort of compromise.

    We haven’t been able to reach a compromise because both sides resolutely refuse to budge from very different statements over what happened. As I said, this is a genuine dilemma, it’s something any organisation would face in such a situation, that is why I argue it doesn’t mean the Liberal Democrats are some peculiarly anti-woman party as has been suggested.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Aug '14 - 10:08pm

    g

    As a political party, do you think the outcome of the Rennard case makes the liberal democrats less electable? Do you think it undermines their aims on equality?

    I do, and so do plenty of other voters. I don’t think anyone has an improved view of your party after this.

    No, and I’m not arguing that anyone would have an improved view of the party after this. Nor am I arguing that the party has not been severely damaged by this. I don’t think Catherine is arguing that either. So why are you asking her these questions?

    The point I have been making throughout is that media coverage of this case, and general discussion, has been one-sided throughout. At every stage, there has been large amounts of comment which has assumed the worst possible interpretation of every aspect of it. Pleading for a more balanced coverage has been shouted down, because to do even that is to face accusations that you too are a woman-hater and someone who doesn’t take sexual abuse seriously.

    I just don’t think the Liberal Democrats deserve what has been thrown at them on this issue. As I keep saying, it is a genuine dilemma which I think would hit any organisation in the same way. If someone is accused of something serious, but stands their ground and resolutely refuses to accept the charges made, and uses their rights to use procedure and law to defend themselves against the charges, what is any organisation to do?

    I think this has been whipped up and made more of than a similar case would be in other organisations because we have many enemies who delight in doing so because they want to see us destroyed. What concerns me is the completely over-the-top conclusions that have been drawn from the genuine difficulties faced in dealing with an issue like that, which are followed up by personal threats made against all of us if we even try to argue that those conclusions are over-the-top.

    At the centre of the accusations thrown at us is the idea that the party desperately wants to defend Rennard because it relies on him to win elections. But this is nonsense, because it was quite clear from early on that Rennard’s image had already been so damaged by the case that he would never be put back in a senior role whatever the official outcome. It is also the case, though perhaps not so well known, that Rennard and his political approach are far removed from the direction the current leadership wants to push the party and has always wanted to push it, so far from the leadership wanting to act unfairly an abusively in order to keep him in place, it would actually suit the leadership to be able to find a way of pushing him out.

  • Richard Dean 25th Aug '14 - 10:26pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    “Why is it that the Liberal Democrats are facing such massive attacks over this?”

    One reason is that the party has handled it so utterly incompetently, in a way that appears to be contrary to the principles on which the party seeks the electorate’s support. In all the other cases, a definitive conclusion has been arrived at, eventually. In none of those cases has there been an apparent conflict between a lawyer’s “credible evidence” and a police “not enough evidence to proceed”. In none of them did the accused issue a statement that could be interpreted with such wildly different meanings. None of them involved a secret hearing. And did the other cases involve a Lord?

  • @Tsar Nicholas
    “It seems to me that the presumption of innocence is removed and discarded whenever there is an allegation of sexual impropriety”

    You say “an allegation”, but according to numerous reports at least ten women made allegations. Given the sheer number of complaints, the fact they were deemed “credible” by Webster, and the fact that Rennard has issued an apology, don’t you think it’s extraordinary that the disciplinary process never got as far as a full hearing? Remember, despite all the legal lingo being deployed here, the issue for the Lib Dems was not whether Rennard had broken the law, but whether his actions had been likely to bring the party into disrepute.

    @Matthew Huntbach
    “Why is it that the Liberal Democrats are facing such massive attacks over this?”

    You list some of the reasons, but overlook the more obvious ones. The Lib Dems have long claimed (somewhat bafflingly to me as a non-Lib Dem) to be a party that has women’s interests at heart, so this business has raised allegations of sanctimony, which is always interesting. But I think the other reason this has become such a big story is because of the fact that these allegations have supposedly been around for at least 10 years but still the Lib Dems seem intent on simply burying it. Rightly or wrongly, people suspect a cover-up of sorts.

  • Tsar Nicholas 25th Aug '14 - 11:41pm

    @Stuart.

    Are you seriously saying that when it comes to evidence, the quantity of allegations is evidence of guilt?

    As in six accusations of theft add up to one manslaughter?

    Did we learn nothing from the Salem witch trials?

  • These are extremely serious allegations which have been denied. Lib Dems are supposed to represent a more principled approach than other parties, and what greater principle can there be than innocent until proven guilty. It seems there is insufficient proof for a successful criminal prosecution in this case and a presumption of innocence must therefore prevail whoever’s word you personally side with. It is open to the women involved to take civil action where the verdict is based on balance of probabilities. Success using this route to justice would justify expulsion in my view but it has not been tested. I don’t think the general electorate have any interest in this case and I don’t think it causes any credibility issues. These cases are always Catch 22 situations and there are never neat solutions that satisfy all parties concerned.

  • Joe Otten

    1) The party may have run out of due process, but this is perceived as a symptom of the inadequacies of the processes the party has in place as it failed to resolve this issue to the satisfaction of anyone, least of all the party’s reputation.

    2) It is badly handled if the party suffers a loss of reputation as a result. It was, and it has.

    3) The failings of other parties are irrelevant. Their lack of effective action on harassment does not excuse nor justify the Liberal Democrat lack of effective action on harassment.

    And more generally, on the political expediency question – political parties need to be good at politics to have any success in winning elections and furthering policy objectives. As none of the decisions concerning Rennard have been good politics this really does beg a question as to the fundamental competence of senior figures within the party which I would have thought members would have wanted addressed given the general election is not too far off, and in which the role of women in politics is guaranteed to be debated, particularly in lib dem marginal seats.

  • Tony Dawson 26th Aug '14 - 9:19am

    Stuart,

    You fail to recognise, it seems, that the burden of proof in the ‘disrepute’ process within the LDs was ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. If you have ever sat on a jury, you would realise that the evidential deficit, as described by Alistair Webster QC, made the complaints not ‘prosecutable’, let alone ‘winnable’ even if you accept everything that every single complainant has said (which not all do) . Having a ‘broadly credible’ set of evidence on a ‘balance of probabilities’ basis is totally useless in such a scenario.

    It is true that some of the Party’s enemies have tried to paint the Party as ‘hanging on to Chris Rennard for dear life’ as though he was thought to be going to resuscitate our electoral hopes by some form of last minute wizardry. As Matthew Huntbach has pointed out above, the national Party are currently heading down a cul-de-sac about as far from ‘route Rennard’ as they can go, so much so that foolish and clumsy attempts were made to fabricate a silly ‘failure to apologise’ second case which never stood a hope in hell of ever going anywhere.

  • As someone working in HR I find the comparisons very difficult to square. If an employee was complained about (on 4 seperate occasions) it would be the job of the chair to a) ask questions and b) see who was more believable. If 4 independent witnesses of good character all say something I do not see how a Chair could find otherwise. Talks of an Employment Tribunal expecting proof beyond the balance of probabilities are simply not appropriate.

    An ET is also public so both the dismissed employee and potentially those complainants would have the opportunity to explain their case. Looking at this situation I am sure a panel at ET would strongly criticise any employer who didn’t a) deal with complaints quickly. b) applied a higher standard of proof (to the potential detriment of other employees) and c) the entire no guilt/apologise fudge. Therefore I think it is perfectly reasonable for commenters to criticise the Lib Dem party in a way that Coronation Street (no complaints to producers from other case/crew) or any other example given above.

    Any business runs the risk of complainants resigning (if they perceive you have failed in your duty of care) and can claim constructive dismissal. So a business runs the risk of four separate ET’s for the sake of avoiding one! This is another reason why the Lib Dem handling of this could not be replicated and so attracts negative comment.

    Finally, any organisation which professes values can expect pelters when these are deemed to come up short making derisions here, in my opinion, fair game.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '14 - 11:09am

    Stuart

    But I think the other reason this has become such a big story is because of the fact that these allegations have supposedly been around for at least 10 years but still the Lib Dems seem intent on simply burying it.

    Yes, and we have seen many other abuse cases come up recently, where we are told there were suspicions around the alleged abuser for years, but no-one acted. But I don’t recall the organisations where these happened being subject to the vehement attacks and accusations that no woman is safe in them that the Liberal Democrats have faced over this. Have the various entertainment and health care organisations where Jimmy Saville was active, for example, faced this sort of thing – attacks made against them where the clear intention of the attacks is to damage them to the point where they are destroyed? Why have the Liberal Democrats been singled out for such one-sided attacks, where anyone attempting to argue for some balance is accused of “looking as if they don’t recognise exactly how huge an issue” is sexual abuse?

    Here you are saying it’s a big problem for which the Liberal Democrats deserve the attacks and don’t deserve a defence because of the way the allegations went around for some time but were not acted on. If that were the case, why did Alison Goldworthy stay on as an active member, and only resign now saying “I can see no place for me – or any women who want to deliver change – in a party that behaves like this”? No, this response is coming from the fact that Rennard has been re-admitted as a member. Many of the attacks made against the Liberal Democrats have hinted that Rennard was excused and this case not properly investigated because the party leadership wants Rennard back in a senior post and is prepared to ignore the issue of abuse in order to enable that. But those attacks are plain wrong because Rennard is not being put back in any such post.

    In my lifetime I am aware of several cases where allegations have been made, grievance panels or whatever set up, and the end point is what we have seen here – it has been admitted that the accuser is “credible”, but because it comes down to one person’s word against another on what happened, on what was said, or on how the intentions of the alleged should be interpreted, the case has not been upheld, or the person against whom the allegations were made has been asked to make only a token apology. The details are personal, I can say no more, but I know from that how upsetting it is to the victim to be dismissed in this way. “Credible” means there is no obvious reason why the accuser should not be telling the truth, and no obvious inconsistencies in what the accuser is saying. However, when you are talking about throwing someone out of their job on the basis of such accusations, or here out of the organisation they have devoted their life to, I can see the point that it can’t be done if it can’t be proved, if it really does come down to one person’s word against another. If the Liberal Democrats are the sort of organisation we are being accused of because of this case, the same applies to most other public and private organisations, because in a similar case they would have to come to the same conclusion. So I ask again, and it is rhetoric, because I have already given the answer, why are the Liberal Democrats being singled out as if this is an issue unique to them?

    I am surprised myself about how strongly I feel about this case. I don’t know Rennard at all personally, I know of him only through his work for the party. I myself was in the position where I was so fed up with how the party is being operated from the top that I have pulled out of working for it, and the next step would have been resignation of membership. Yet the one-sided and vehement nature of the attacks made on the party over this case, the way that anyone who does not agree with the line that it deserves to be destroyed due to this case and tried to argue that is themselves accused of being someone who treat sexual abuse as not a serious matter has driven me to come back and write all these things.

    I’m sorry, but I will repeat what I said previously. This case is being whipped up and presented as it has been for political reasons. The one-sided nature of the attacks made on us come about because we have no real friends in the media, and plenty of people who wish to see us destroyed. I have seen it before over other issues – something bad happens or is alleged to have happened involving the party, and media commentary jumps to the worst possible interpretation of it, does not allow any mollifying comments to be made, and uses it to attack the whole of the party. One case, for example, is the Bermondsey by-election where to this day it is written up as if we ran a virulently homophobic campaign, and the truth – that many of us were motivated to work in the Liberal campaign because we did not like the way the Independent candidate who was assumed to be the main challenger to Labour was using homophobia and we wanted to make sure he did not win – is almost never reported.

    I am concerned also that the vehemence of the attacks made on this issue, the way our political enemies have made use of it to attack all of us, the emotional blackmail that has been used against anyone who wants to try and come to a conclusion which looks at it properly from how both sides might have seen it, have all contributed to the unsatisfactory conclusion it has come to. The attacks on one side have led to a clamming up and a response only in legalese from the other. I would have liked it if we could have somehow coaxed Rennard into saying something more sincere and which fits better into the credible evidence we have heard against him. I think that possibility as killed off by the nature of the attacks, it is the killing off of that and so ending up with just the legalese response that has caused Alison Goldworthy to resign. I understand why she has felt so hurt that she said what she did. But I think some of the blame also falls on those who jumped at this case as another reason to say “Nah nah nah nah nah, dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, nah nah nah nah, I look forward to seeing you wiped out”.

    It is quite remarkable how we have managed to keep a third party going in this country. The failure of anyone else to do the same shows how difficult it is. I detest the way UKIP is using concerns that ought to be building a credible left to win votes for its own agenda, which underneath is extreme right-wing. I would not want them to benefit from the destruction of the Liberal Democrats which so many would want to see. I detest the Labour Party for leading the “nah nah nah nah nahs”, with its aim of restoring the two-party system so forever in the future we will have a rotation of Labour and Conservative governments. And I detest the nihilists who argue that all politics is bad so we should not participate, but have nothing to say in what the alternative might be – and no I don’t think it will be “the revolution”, and if it is, these thing almost always end up horribly.

    I don’t want to see the Liberal Democrats destroyed. I don’t think we deserve to be destroyed over this case. OK?

  • This describes a very serious assault. It is unproven and unsupported except insofar as other less serious allegations were made and seem to constitute a pattern. It’s depressing what Alison has said about saying nothing because of his power.

    However, I do find g’s line of argument worrying in that it seems to dismiss issues of justice as unimportant beside issues of electoral advantage. Well, that isn’t the party I joined.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    “We have seen many other abuse cases come up recently… But I don’t recall the organisations where these happened being subject to the vehement attacks and accusations … that the Liberal Democrats have faced over this. Have the various entertainment and health care organisations where Jimmy Saville was active, for example, faced this sort of thing,../ where the clear intention of the attacks is to damage them to the point where they are destroyed? Why have the Liberal Democrats been singled out for such one-sided attacks?”

    The BBC has faced far, far more public criticism over Savile than the Lib Dems have faced over Rennard. Of course if you’re a Lib Dem, you read every little inside-page article that ever appears about Rennard, and it seems to be an avalanche of words. But it isn’t. Rennard has (rightly) never made anything like the headline news that the Savile case has done.

    You talk about deliberate attacks made with the aim of destroying the Party. I don’t believe there is much truth in that, simply because our opponents know they would be walking on eggshells if they tried it on. They have plenty of scandals of their own, and if they made a big fuss about Rennard, they would be seen to be hitting below the belt. By contrast, those who wish to destroy the BBC have certainly made a big thing of Savile. They can claim that Savile represents dysfunctional management and hence misapplication of the licence fee money spent by the public.

    Claiming to be the hurt victims of evil opponents is not going to make the Lib Dems look good. One thing which all sides actually agree upon is that we messed up. Getting angry with being told that we messed up will not help us.

  • Yes – like Matthew, I am not saying I know Rennard is innocent, I am saying that, based on what has been disclosed, there is not enough evidence to say that he is guilty (certainly not beyond reasonable doubt and possibly not even on balance of probabilities). I am also saying that presumption of innocence is a pretty big effing deal as far as liberal principles go and tossing it aside would not reflect well on the party.

    I’m also not saying this has been handled well – by *any* of the parties involved, not just the leadership. The leadership could have handled it better initially but then they passed the matter to an independent QC for investigation, who found insufficient evidence to proceed. What were they supposed to do, ignore the report? Webster also made some comments about the apology that were either naive or disingenuous. Rennard didn’t help matters by initially refusing to apologise for unintentional invasion of personal space, although I can understand his hesitation (just look at how some people are now trying to twist his apology to be “evidence” of his guilt of the more serious allegations). Some of Rennard’s friends also made some very unnecessary inflammatory comments. Then when he did eventually apologise the leadership tried to kick him out for not apologising immediately, which was just silly. And finally, the complainants have made some absurd claims about the party “not being a safe place for women”, which frankly is just as ridiculous as one of Rennard’s friends (I forget who it was) comparing the party to North Korea. Emotions have understandably been running high and everyone involved has said some stupid things.

    I do also wonder why Alison has chosen to resign *now*. The mishandling by the party leadership occurred years ago. If she felt so strongly that she was being treated badly and not taken seriously, why is she only resigning now, after the leadership have actually taken action? They arranged an inquiry by an independent QC and therefore had to abide by his conclusions. Why not resign when the Webster inquiry was announced if she felt that was not a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter?

  • @ Mr Huntbach

    George Entwhistle resigned from the BBC re: Saville as did several subordinates if memory serves. The Lib Dem response has resulted in only the resignation of the alleged victims. Perhaps if someone had taken responsibility for not doing enough at the various opportunities to do so this would not be where it is. As far as I’m aware the victims in the Saville case are not criticising the BBC’s current actions and so this tempers the story. Therefore I simply do not think the cases are apples and apples.

    I would also state that it is not a case of ‘he says one thing and she says another’ but actually ‘he says one thing and four independent women say the contrary’ which would ordinarily make the job of any chair immensely easier (especially if using civil standards of proof)!

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    In essence, your opponents are guilty of bad faith here. Your argument is honest – your concern is with the rights of an individual accused of such things, and is predicated on absolute truths of human rights.

    My argument is somehow tainted. It’s not about rights, it’s about people, it’s not objective – I’m merely saying this is likely, look at what happened: again, and again, and again. I’m saying the very nature of the act is more than likely only going to have the accused and accuser at witnesses – but if a pattern emerges…With that kind of infirm grasp, I’m probably confused, distracted, I don’t understand Rennard’s current role in the party. Oh wait – I do? Then clearly if I’m not confused arguing against what’s right I must be motivated by malice. Clearly I can’t have an honest belief in my uttered position. Clearly I can’t be arguing, motivated by experience.

    Here comes the “nah nah nah nah nah” box.

    In I go. That’s resolved, then.

    You’re gonna need a bigger box, by the way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '14 - 1:59pm

    D McKay

    George Entwhistle resigned from the BBC re: Saville as did several subordinates if memory serves.

    I’m only going on what’s in Wiki, but it says there that he resigned over false accusations broadcast about Lord Alpine.

    As far as I’m aware the victims in the Saville case are not criticising the BBC’s current actions and so this tempers the story.

    So that sort of abuse is alright so long as the victims don’t make a fuss about it?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '14 - 2:36pm

    David Allen

    The BBC has faced far, far more public criticism over Savile than the Lib Dems have faced over Rennard.

    There has been widespread commentary in the national press which has taken the line that this case proves there is some deep anti-woman feeling at the heart of the Liberal Democrats, that it is a core aspect of our party that we treat sexual abuse lightly. I don’t recall anything like this being said about the BBC.

    Of course if you’re a Lib Dem, you read every little inside-page article that ever appears about Rennard, and it seems to be an avalanche of words. But it isn’t. Rennard has (rightly) never made anything like the headline news that the Savile case has done.

    Sure, but isn’t that a bit like the Cleggie line which goes something like “Oh, it’s only the Guardian newspaper which goes on and on about the Liberal Democrats having ‘given up their principles, rolled over, and given in to the Tories’, and the Guardian is only read by half-a-dozen champagne socialists, so don’t worry, everyone else thinks we’re doing a fine job in the Coalition, it’s not really losing us votes”?

    I take your point about most people not being very interested in politics, so not following this or any other story about the LibDems closely. What happens, however, is that the negative coverage in the places where politics is covered in some depth that aren’t read by many feeds through into a general negative feeling elsewhere. So the average sort of person who is interested enough in politics to want to vote in general elections, but not interested enough to follow the news in detail ends up just thinking that something has gone deeply wrong with the Liberal Democrats so they’re not a good party to vote for. That is what is reported here: 53% of those polled view us unfavourably, only 13% favourably. What has caused those 53% to think like that?

    Something like this happened when the Liberal Party and the SDP merged. The REAL news was that the merger went remarkably smoothly. Just about everywhere, Liberal and SDP members got together, and carried on doing what they were doing before, only as one party. Most people like me who were opposed to the merger nevertheless accepted it had gone through democratically and accepted majority opinion and went along with it. The vast majority of active members joined the new merged party which was the sole legal heir of the two previous parties. But the media did not report it as this. The media reported it as some catastrophic split into warring parties. Of course most ordinary people did not follow the news about the merger in detail. As with this case, detailed coverage was only in what was then correctly the “broadsheet” press. Nevertheless, the vague feeling that something had gone deeply wrong spread more widely, and our opinion poll figure plummetted.

    You talk about deliberate attacks made with the aim of destroying the Party. I don’t believe there is much truth in that, simply because our opponents know they would be walking on eggshells if they tried it on.

    Oh come on, you know how this works. When they can’t say it directly, they rely in their committed supporters in the media to say it for them. Also, as I’ve already said, there is a tendency for when something bad happens in the Liberal Democrats for it to be supposed to be a reflection of the whole party, which is less the case than in the other parties. I think this relates to your point that most people don’t follow the details – so as they don’t know much about us they are more easily misled into thinking that whatever some Liberal Democrats says or does reflects the whole party. I recall this myself when I was an activist and a councillor, how annoying it was that when I expressed my personal opinion on some issue, people were ready to jump and say “Oh, so that’s the Liberal Democrat line” whereas if Cllr X of Labour or Cllr Y of the Tories said something, it would be taken as Cllr X or Cllr Y saying it, not a reflection of the whole of the Labour or Tory party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '14 - 2:56pm

    Bolano

    In essence, your opponents are guilty of bad faith here. Your argument is honest – your concern is with the rights of an individual accused of such things, and is predicated on absolute truths of human rights.

    No, it’s not just that. As I keep saying, any organisation would face the same thing if they wanted to use disciplinary measures against someone, but that person argued using their legal rights that they could not be disciplined if it could not be proved they did what they were accused of. Mostly, big organisations get round this by what are called “compromise agreements”. That is, instead of pursuing the case through all the formal routes, one side is kicked out of their job and given a large enough sum of money they keep with an agreement they must give it back if they say anything. Ever seen how much money the NHS spends on compromise agreements? Huge, huge amounts. Private organisations can afford to pay even more. That is why difficult cases like this generally don’t get as far as reaching the headlines.

    I’m saying the very nature of the act is more than likely only going to have the accused and accuser at witnesses – but if a pattern emerges…With that kind of infirm grasp, I’m probably confused, distracted,

    No, I agree. Unless it can be shown that there was a deliberate conspiracy to get together four individuals to make up these stories, the most likely explanation is that it did happen as they said. I have said all along that I am disappointed that Rennard has only responded with legalese. However, as he’s said, attempts to prove the allegations correct have failed, and so he has a right to conclude it at that. He can’t be forced to say anything else. Once again, I don’t think there’s some unique problem with the Liberal Democrats due to some prevailing anti-woman feeling in the party that has led to it ending up like that – which is what we are being accused of. My argument is that any organisation faced with the same ting would end up in the same situation – though, as I’ve said, in most cases compromise agreements would be used to keep it silent. The Liberal Democrats can’t afford the payments that would require.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Aug '14 - 3:10pm

    Catherine

    which frankly is just as ridiculous as one of Rennard’s friends (I forget who it was) comparing the party to North Korea.

    Well, many of the accusations made against the party have said that Rennard should just be kicked out of membership and have accused the Liberal Democrats of being “anti woman” because there is no procedural mechanism which enables the national leader to kick anyone out of the party on the grounds “the national leader has the right to kick out anyone who he feels is not doing the party any good by remaining as a member”.

    I think it’s fair enough to say that the model of political party which works like that is not a good one. It disturbs me that quite a lot of debate on this case HAS just assumed that sort of all-power-to-the-leader model of political party should exist, and there is something wrong if it doesn’t and if members can’t be expelled without a proof they have done wrong. Take the assumptions about how political parties should work you have here, push them to their limit, and where do you get?

    Such a power could VERY easily be misused, I can very easily see how someone who is a bit awkward, who is perhaps mounting a campaign against the way the party is being led could be accused of damaging the party’s image by doing so, and so get kicked out. If there’s no need for a burden of proof, the possibility of someone who the leader does not want to be a member having a case manufactured against them and that used to expel them does exist.

  • @ Mr Huntbach

    My sincere apology that my memory has let me down regarding BBC resignations. I would echo David Allen’s comments that attacks (from all political parties and media groups) were prominent.

    With regard to your second response I think this is an entirely classless comment. I simply made the point that if alleged victims feel ignored they will use the media (as is the case with the Lib Dems). If the process is working and has ‘buy-in’ from those affected then there are less of these media stories you find so galling. In no way did I condone any sort of abuse and I am offended by this insinuation.

  • David Allen 26th Aug '14 - 4:33pm

    Matthew Huntbach:

    “53% of those polled view us unfavourably, only 13% favourably. What has caused those 53% to think like that?”

    I don’t think it’s “education, education, education”, I do think it’s “Clegg, Clegg, Clegg”.

    It’s Clegg, fees, Clegg, NHS, Clegg, bedroom tax, Clegg, Laws, Clegg, Alexander, Clegg, austerity, and, er, Clegg.

    Cyril Smith MP, oh yes, heard of him, bad case, but it’s yesterday’s news, doesn’t really affect the way I’m going to vote.

    Rennard, who on earth is he? An election organiser? Look, I don’t care about him, I don’t care about your printer, I don’t care about who cleans your toilets, I care about your MPs, the way they and the Tories run the country, OK?!

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    “I think it’s fair enough to say that the model of political party which works like that is not a good one.

    OK, compromise – the national leader should be able to kick out anyone about whom there’ve been five or more accusations of sexually inappropriate behaviour? Or would you have a higher number?

  • Ruth Bright 26th Aug '14 - 5:42pm

    Matthew perhaps the level of outside criticism comes from our ability to be uniquely sanctimonious on women’s rights (the party’s website is currently dominated by FGM) but without the record to back it up.

    Exasperating to see Alison being criticised on this thread:
    1. For giving up
    2. For taking too long to resign
    3. For being someone else altogether

  • @Tsar Nicholas
    “Are you seriously saying that when it comes to evidence, the quantity of allegations is evidence of guilt?”

    Of course not – you are grossly distorting what I said. This may shock you, but people are convicted in criminal courts on a regular basis on the say-so of victims with little or no corroborating evidence. In such cases, prosecutors – and later on, juries – have to weigh up the relative credibility of each side and then consider whether the victims are so convincing that guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. You seem to think such a thing is impossible, but it happens.

    Even if one takes the English Lib Dems’ disciplinary procedure as an unalterable given (which we apparently have to do, since Rennard claims he threatened the party with legal action should they attempt to change it – see https://www.libdemvoice.org/statement-by-lord-rennard-on-his-suspension-by-the-party-37906.html) the whole thing was mishandled. Why was Webster appointed as “Investigator” in the first place? The party rules suggest that the appointment of an Investigator is optional, but once he was in place, any recommendation from him to drop the charges (as indeed happened) was irreversible and the case was doomed never to go to a proper hearing and vote. A lot of people here are complaining that these kinds of decisions should not be taken by one man – but in effect, that’s exactly what happened.

  • @Catherine
    “I am also saying that presumption of innocence is a pretty big effing deal as far as liberal principles go and tossing it aside would not reflect well on the party.”

    So how do you feel about the fact that most of the “liberal principles” underlying the English procedures have already been tossed aside (or never adopted in the first place) by the Scottish and Welsh Lib Dems?

    In Scotland, any member can be thrown out by a two-thirds vote of the Executive for pretty much any reason; the Executive simply has to be “of the opinion that his or her continued membership would be seriously detrimental to the interests of the Party”.

    In Wales, reasons for expulsion are similar to those in England (e.g. “likely to bring the Party into disrepute”), but all decisions are taken by a simple majority vote of the Executive.

    Crucially, neither Wales nor Scotland require guilt to be established beyond reasonable doubt. And there is no provision for a Webster-style “Investigator” with the power to throw out a case before there is even a hearing, as happened with Rennard; all cases go to a proper hearing and secret ballot of the executive.

    Are the Welsh and Scottish Lib Dem Parties acting contrary to liberal principles of justice? And if they are, why is nobody making a fuss about it?

  • @ Ruth Bright
    I wasn’t necessarily criticising Alison for “taking too long to resign”, I’m just wondering why now, when the party did actually take action? If she wasn’t happy with the proposal to put the investigation in the hands of a) the police and b) Webster, then why didn’t she resign at the time that decision was made? What alternative course of action did she want the party to take? Was she not onboard with the Webster inquiry in the first place? If so, did she say so at the time? Agreeing to a particular process and then resigning when you don’t like the outcome doesn’t look great.

  • @ Stuart
    Fair points but as I understand the Scottish rules the vote would not be to determine guilt or innocence but rather to decide whether someone’s behaviour makes them detrimental. In other words, *what* they have done is already accepted by all concerned, it’s just a question of whether what they’ve done warrants being expelled. I’m no expert so I could be wrong about this and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am! But if I understand it correctly the Scottish ballot process would apply to the Jenny Tonge situation, for example, where there was no dispute as to whether she made the controversial remarks, the question was whether what she said brought the party into disrepute or not. That’s not a determination of fact but rather a qualitative judgment, or to use a court analogy the vote you describe would be akin to the judge passing sentence not the jury deciding whether the accused is actually guilty or not. The Rennard situation is the opposite – everyone agrees that if he did what is alleged then his actions bring the party into disrepute and he should be expelled. The dispute is over whether or not he did it.

    I don’t disagree that a full hearing might have been better for everyone (including CR probably since it would have given him an opportunity to defend himself publicly) but I don’t know if it would have produced any different result and I don’t even know if all the women involved would have agreed to it – it was stated that the reason the Webster report couldn’t be published is because one or more of the complainants refused permission on data protection grounds, so presumably any hearing would have had to be behind closed doors. I’m not sure that would end up being any better to be honest. It’s just a difficult situation all round.

  • Catherine

    Possibly because she is a lifelong, committed Liberal Democrat who desperately didn’t want to do this.

    The rest of my response would get censored of Reddit never mind LDV!

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Aug '14 - 10:39am

    David Allen

    Rennard, who on earth is he? An election organiser? Look, I don’t care about him, I don’t care about your printer, I don’t care about who cleans your toilets, I care about your MPs, the way they and the Tories run the country, OK?!

    No, not OK, because you are missing my point.

    Ordinary people get the feeling that there is something wrong and bad about the Liberal Democrats because of the consistent media bias against us. As I’ve said, people without any great political interest are unlikely to know or care about the Rennard issue, but the way it is reported with the consistent worst possible assumption about the Liberal Democrats trickles down to a general feeling “there’s something a bit odd about that lot, don’t trust them”. Most people will get out of this issue just a trickling down of the “Liberal Democrats condone sexual abuse” line, without remembering the details. And that’s how our enemies want it to be.

    Of course I take the point that the major issue here is what is happening in this government. However, there again we are facing big press bias. The right-wing press takes the right-wing Tory line, that we are a bunch of crazies who are stopping the government doing all that it needs to do and insisting on wasting time pushing our own obsessions that no-one else is interested in, such as an elected House of Lords. However, if it suits its purpose to damage us, it isn’t above using the “nah nah nah nah nah, abandoned your principles for power” line which is standard on the left. I don’t recall anywhere in any element of the media coming across a serious discussion of the coalition which takes a realistic approach to the dilemma faced by the Liberal Democrats following the May 2010 general election and the limits to what they could have done in that situation. I accept (after all I’ve been making this point continuously for four years) that the Cleggie exaggeration of what we were able to achieve and what we have achieved have made things worse for us here.

    Given the horribleness of the case which makes the headlines today, I’m sorry to bring it up to make a base political point. However, here it is – Rotherham council. Which political party controls it? Well, if you look very closely through some of the media reports you might find out, I saw it mentioned in passing once in the Guardian and once in the Financial Times. I am telling you that if the Liberal Democrats ran Rotherham Council, the party name would be in the headlines. This case would be taken and used as evidence that there is something deeply wrong about the Liberal Democrats. We would be facing agonised discussions about it and huge attacks on our party about it right here now. How do I know? Because that is exactly what happened when we did run councils in deprived areas with all the problems that involves. The Labour Party and its friends in the media made sure that anything bad that happened in Liverpool and Tower Hamlets when we were in control in those places was reflected by negative reporting which blamed our party for it.

    However, as Rotherham is a Labour-run council, the problems are reported just as problems with a council. It is not taken as reflection on the party that runs it, that is considered just an incidental point.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Aug '14 - 10:47am

    D McKay

    If the process is working and has ‘buy-in’ from those affected then there are less of these media stories you find so galling. In no way did I condone any sort of abuse and I am offended by this insinuation.

    And I in return apologise, because I did not mean what I wrote to imply that. My point was that the Liberal Democrats are being attacked in a way that the BBC is not (I mean the accusations that our whole party is deeply anti-woman, and the implications that we should just fold up and disappear because of this case) not just because of what happened, but also because we have many enemies who are happy to push these attacks using their media influence, and the BBC does not.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Aug '14 - 10:56am

    Ruth Bright

    Exasperating to see Alison being criticised on this thread:

    Please note, though I did make the point that her resignation and statement about it came after the reinstatement of Rennard’s membership and in direct response to that and therefore not as suggested in response to the party not acting quicker when the allegations were first made, I did not attack her personally. Rather I tried to sympathise with her position. That is because, though I don’t want to give details, I have reason to know what this feels like. That is, the situation where you have made a serious allegation, the person against whom it was made denies it, and because it’s one person’s word against another you are told that what you said is “credible”, but that no further action will be taken because nothing can be proved. I know through direct personal experience how bitter this leaves you feeling, and how that bitterness is likely to lead you wanting to say things that are very damaging to the organisation where that happened.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Aug '14 - 4:32pm

    Bolano

    OK, compromise – the national leader should be able to kick out anyone about whom there’ve been five or more accusations of sexually inappropriate behaviour?

    OK, so the national leader is facing a serious challenge by a group of people who think he or she is not up to the job, and wants to replace him and her. So, the national leader finds five people to make these accusations against those who are leading that group, and bingo, they get thrown out. Far fetched? Well, I very much hope so, though history shows similar happening elsewhere. I would be happy to accept that someone against whom allegations of this sort were made should be held away from any role where they would be left alone with someone else. I’m talking only about caution on denying democratic rights of membership on the grounds of unproven allegations. Clearly, if five allegations were made, it should be passed to the police and treated as a criminal affair anyway.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Yeah – far fetched.

    I think the benefits of my suggestion are clear and many; the downside only an inventive conspiracy theory, to be honest.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    “Ordinary people get the feeling that there is something wrong and bad about the Liberal Democrats because of the consistent media bias against us.” … “As Rotherham is a Labour-run council, the problems are reported just as problems with a council. It is not taken as reflection on the party that runs it, that is considered just an incidental point.”

    Your belief that the Lib Dems are uniquely victimised by all and sundry doesn’t get any more reasonable just because you keep on writing long articles about it. The media as a whole do of course have a pro-Tory bias, but the idea that the media have a pro-Labour bias is just ludicrous. Remember Neil Kinnock and the lightbulb?

    Labour are clearly identified as the ruling group on Rotherham Council in all the press accounts. The media and Theresa May have concentrated their fire on individuals rather than the Labour Party as a whole. They have done that because to do otherwise would just look like blatant exploitation of a very serious issue for party political ends, and would rebound on them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Aug '14 - 11:24am

    David Allen

    I don’t think it’s “education, education, education”, I do think it’s “Clegg, Clegg, Clegg”.

    It’s Clegg, fees, Clegg, NHS, Clegg, bedroom tax, Clegg, Laws, Clegg, Alexander, Clegg, austerity, and, er, Clegg.

    Well, I’ve been writing here primarily about our enemies on the left, but our enemies on the right are also very dominant in the media. So while I would not deny the Clegg factor (both the fair and unfair criticisms of him, those that were unavoidable in the situation, and those who were a bit more politically savvy could have avoided), I think it’s simplistic to put this just down to Clegg and the Coalition – perhaps a factor that you, David, were warning me about.

    Try reading a few copies of THE Sun or the Daily Mail. As I said, although they too will use the “nah nah nah nah nah, gave up all your principles to the Tories just for a bit of power” when it suits them, the more usual line is to paint us as some crazy people with an obsession with taking “political correctness” to its extreme limits, and an obsession with “giving in to the Brussels bureaucrats”. Sure, as you say, we don’t get much coverage in these papers, you won’t get in-depth analysis. But you will get little snippets, and the drip-drip nature of these going on and on and it being what people who aren’t interested much in politics gets to hear about us has its long-term effects. A good example was our party’s recent very sensible stand against mandatory imprisonment for knife crimes, reported with nothing from our side coming through, but just “out-of-touch Liberal Democrats, soft on crime”. If there’s some funny little story that involves a councillor who happens to be LibDem saying or doing something silly, and it fills column inch, it will go in, and the party is mentioned, especially if it can be painted as “political correctness gone mad”. But don’t ever expect to see a balancing story which puts us in a good light.

    THE Sun is a very clever newspaper, and I write as someone who was a councillor for a ward where it was by far the most read newspaper – if you went into any newsagent in the ward you would find the pile of Suns outnumbering all the other newspapers on sale put together. It puts across an image of being just for fun, but its politics is drip fed into its readers, slowly so they don’t even notice. So, sure, they won’t recall the details of the Rennard case or anything else. But they will over time pick up this very negative image of us, the idea that we are weird, out-of-touch, not to be trusted, and very much not like them. We won and kept the ward (until this year – that is, for over 20 years) by sheer hard work, and by being seen as the local opposition to the Labour Party which ran the borough and for many years ignored the end where that ward was. However, time and time again when canvassing I got the message from my constituents “We’ll vote for you in the local elections” (meaning me and my local colleagues) “but we don’t like your party”. When quizzed on why they didn’t like our party nationally, it was generally very clear to me that the negativity came from the way it was reported in THE Sun. They wouldn’t remember the details of the little snippets over the years, but they would retain that general impression.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Aug '14 - 12:35pm

    Bolano

    I think the benefits of my suggestion are clear and many; the downside only an inventive conspiracy theory, to be honest

    Isn’t this a bit like what is always thrown back whenever anyone raises civil liberty concerns “Oh, don’t worry about it, it will only be used against those we know are guilty, the innocent have nothing to fear”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Aug '14 - 12:52pm

    David Allen

    The media as a whole do of course have a pro-Tory bias, but the idea that the media have a pro-Labour bias is just ludicrous.

    They have enough of a pro-Labour bias to defend Labour when it comes to preserving the two-party system and hence Tory dominance of this country. They may on the whole be anti-Labour, but see how the right-wing press jumped to the defence of Labour and the two-party system when we had a referendum on electoral reform.

    On Rotherham, Labour are identified only incidentally as the party in control. I remain of the opinion that had it been a Liberal Democrat run council, far more prominence would have been given to the party running it, and coverage would have gone much further down the road of seeing this as an indictment on the national party. In some ways this is a conscious bias, but in some ways it’s just a reflection of the fact that the Liberal Democrats are a smaller party and people in the media elite are less familiar with it. It’s rather like the way if a crime is committed by a white person, it’s a crime committed by someone who happens to be white, but if a crime is committed by a person of an ethnic minority, the fact that they are of that ethnic minority gets dragged into it and made an issue of, even if it is incidental.

  • David Allen 28th Aug '14 - 5:33pm

    Matthew, I don’t deny that the Sun denigrates the Lib Dems in the way you say and for the reasons you give. But they do the same to the Greens. They do much the same to Labour, except when they identify a Labour politician like Blair or Mandelson who will take the side of the rich and the Murdochs. They are far harder on non-right-wing Labour politicians than they are on Lib Dems. The reason is that they support conservatism generally, the rich more specifically, and the Murdochs above all!

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    “Isn’t this a bit like what is always thrown back whenever anyone raises civil liberty concerns “Oh, don’t worry about it, it will only be used against those we know are guilty, the innocent have nothing to fear”?”

    Actually, it’s a bit more like coming up with a practical solution in the face of idealists yelling “unless you can give me a cast iron guarantee that not a single innocent will ever go to prison, I’m not willing to have prisons full stop.”

    I’ve suggested a simple solution to a problem. If your best argument against it is that the leader of the Lib Dems might convince five people to make up allegations of sexual impropriety against an individual to get him out of the party and you believe this is realistic, you’re a conspiracy theorist. If you have an argument against it that involves a credible, plausible, actual scenario – I’d look forward to hearing it.

  • Melanie Harvey 29th Aug '14 - 9:23pm

    “No place for women who want to deliver change” is an insulting statement to other women in the party.

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