Catherine Bearder MEP doesn’t need men telling her what’s important

I have to say that I am incandescent with rage at a profile of the only Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder which has appeared in the New Statesman. The implied conclusion of both the journalist and the several Liberal Democrat sources quoted seems to be that Catherine is a lightweight who needs the back-up of a group of men. She’s criticised for not pursuing their agendas and her own concerns, on massive issues like wildlife and human trafficking are dismissed by the journalist as pet projects.  Yes, that’s right, protecting vulnerable people from the brutal exploitation of modern slavery somehow is a niche issue? Not in my world.

The thing is, despite the drip-drip of patronising criticism that comes through the article Catherine comes out of it really well. What I get is an impression of a politician who, heaven forfend, is well-connected to her constituency and the people she represents. Heaven forfend! It’s hard to do that across a single UK Parliamentary seat. Across a region? That’s more challenging and Catherine does it well. That is just as important as legislative achievement.

Dave Keating, the journalist laments that the lack of political heavyweights:

The Liberal Democrats lost their Brussels heavyweights like Graham Watson, Andrew Duff and Ed McMillan-Scott.

They’re all very heavyweight for sure, but so are some of the other MPs who contributed a massive amount to the Parliament and were incredibly highly respected. He doesn’t seem to have noticed Sarah Ludford, Sharon Bowles who actually chaired the Parliament’s Economic Committee and Fiona Hall who actually led the UK Lib Dem delegation. As Ludford herself noted on Twitter:

As if the journalist isn’t bad enough, here’s what a Liberal Democrat source has to say:

This has led to some tension between Bearder and the Liberal Democrat machine in Brussels. They want her to focus on the big issues, but she wants to spend more time on wildlife conservation.

“A lot of us are helping her out on a voluntary basis, not just her staff at the Parliament,” says one Liberal Democrat who works outside the Parliament in Brussels. “She’s only one person and she can’t do everything…but there are people who want her to focus more on the big issues.”

How utterly patronising! Let’s just have a look at some of the issues she’s been working on. Well, first of all, there’s that trivial matter of the air that we breathe. I mean, that’s not fundamental to every human being on the planet. Here Catherine writes about what she’s doing  to save the lives of a number of people equivalent to half the size of the large town where I live.

She also had a successful campaign,with  the Sunday Mirror, to have wildlife crime properly tackled. Not only that but she set up the group MEPs for Wildlife, a cross party group of MEPs working with NGOs to find ways to tackle wildlife crime.

And later this year, she’ll be working to ensure minimum rights for victims of human trafficking. Ending human suffering and acting to stop the wipe-out of an entire species is important. That may not suit the agenda of some of her former colleagues but it’s a pretty good record of achievement as far as I can see. When there’s only one of her, I think she should concentrate on the issues she wants to and not let her former colleagues dictate to her what she should be doing.

Apparently her record isn’t good enough for some, as this Liberal Democrat source rather sniffily complains:

“That’s the world we live in,” notes one former Liberal Democrat official. “The other MEPs got a lot done in the European Parliament, but Catherine has always been very good at local politics and she was in her constituency often. That’s where she excels, she’s very personable. But it seems that the more successful work you do in Brussels and Strasbourg, the less likely you are to be re-elected.”

Ah, so she’s not doing successful work or getting noticed in the European Parliament. Really? She was recently picked as one of 8 MEPs to watch (and the only woman) when it came to the debate on Britain’s future role in Europe.

Another factor that seriously annoys me is that mention is made of her age, and concern is expressed that she might not have the stamina for the job, but no mentions is made that her venerated former colleagues are remarkably similar in age. Edward McMillan-Scott is just 7 months and a day younger, Andrew Duff is just under 2 years younger and Graham Watson 7 years younger. Men are allowed to get older, it seems, but women aren’t.

I have an novel suggestion for every Liberal Democrat in the Brussels Bubble (and everywhere else). How about just not undermining your colleagues to the press? It’s really frustrating when people are undermined in this way and I can’t for the life of me see what good it does.

The other day, at a diversity hustings in Glasgow, I asked both leadership candidates how they would tackle the sort of “everyday sexism” that we see in the party. They both gave good answers, but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. It’s not about disciplinary processes, it’s about the culture of the party which I believe is no more sexist than wider society, but should be much less so if we really do believe in equality. This unpleasant article is an example of the sexist attitudes that need to be tackled head on.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • James Moore 1st Jul '15 - 4:35pm

    I’m incredibly proud of Catherine and the work she does! If human trafficking isn’t a big issue, I don’t know what is.

  • (Matt Bristol) 1st Jul '15 - 4:51pm

    Lib Dem back-channel media communications standard procedure:
    1) obtain shot gun
    2) ensure both barrells loaded andready
    3) locate both feet (difficult bit, don’t get confused with other body parts including, um, elbows)
    4) put feet together neatly to make a nice big target
    5) Aim.
    6) … you get the rest.

  • Trevor Stables 1st Jul '15 - 5:04pm

    I read it and came to same conclusion as Caron. Despicable reporting and briefing. Catherine does a First class job!! Maybe because she is supporting Tim someone has eaten a few sour grapes?

  • Jenny Wilson 1st Jul '15 - 5:04pm

    Preach. It drives me banana’s the way the media, and others, treat female politicians. Thanks for writing this Caron – I hope all of those who made negative comments to the press feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

  • paula keaveney 1st Jul '15 - 5:06pm

    I’m afraid that talking to journalists like this is one way for some “senior” Lib Dems to make themselves feel important. Let’s hope Catherine carries on with her “pet projects” which sound desparately important to me. Those briefers should also reflect on what people have lobbied them about. .I would put money on them having been lobbied by many many campaigners on the trafficking and animal welfare issues.

  • “it’s about the culture of the party which I believe is no more sexist than wider society, but should be much less so if we really do believe in equality”

    This is a subject close to my heart and I agree completely that it is all about the culture. But is it true that the Party is no more sexist than wider society? The thing that makes me think otherwise is that none of the other Parties seem to have ‘a woman problem’ as much as the Lib Dems and I just don’t understand how this can be the case. I mean it’s authoritarian Labour and the stick-in-the-mud Tories we’re talking about! Even in government for five years, no woman Lib Dem made it to the Cabinet and I just get ‘ a bad feeling’ about this. Added to the fact that several brilliant women activists ( and their whole families) have been driven to leave the Party in recent times, well it’s really bad for a party which believes to its core that everyone is equal. It makes one think that the Lib Dems like to talk the talk but do not actually translate their beliefs into practice , even when, for instance, it’s entirely within the gift of the leader to appoint a woman to the Cabinet. Why? Genuinely perplexed!

  • Helen Tedcastle 1st Jul '15 - 5:29pm

    Thanks for this article Caron.

    Catherine Bearder MEP is doing superb work tackling the massive issue of wildlife crime and the real possibility in our lifetimes that the Rhino and African Elephant will become extinct – due to poaching and the trade in horn. Anyone who stands up to the cartels of criminal gangs involved in this appalling trade is a heavyweight in my book.

  • Sammy O'Neill 1st Jul '15 - 5:58pm

    It’s a really tricky one this. On the one hand the party is incredibly sexist as I have found first hand- I don’t know any female lib dem members who don’t feel an element of this. Perhaps it’s more of an issue depending on your local party, but I have found it pretty bad.

    On the other hand, you do need to be able to criticise people if you feel they aren’t up to the job or not campaigning on the right issues. As our decimation at the General Election shows, we probably need to be a bit more self-critical rather than blindly assuming everything will be ok. Perhaps this is the first sign of that, or it could simply be the continuation of the traditional party sexism. I don’t know which it is, though I’ll confess I could not have named or identified Catherine Bearder until reading this article.

  • Trevor Stables 1st Jul '15 - 6:05pm

    Forgot to say … Animal Welfare Charities like RSPCA and RSPB, WWF have millions of members and are not only a noble cause but also very popular.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jul '15 - 6:09pm

    I don’t mind criticism, but my problem with this is that no one mentioned in the article stood out for me as particularly “heavyweight” themselves. The MEP team in Brussels used to come across as Brussels’s representatives to our constituencies, rather than the other way around. :p


  • David Allen 1st Jul '15 - 6:13pm

    Yes, there is some sexism in the NS article, but let’s have some balance, please. Ed McMillan-Scott regrets the lost Lib Dem MEPs, but of the three he names, two are female. And the word “heavyweights” was used by – Catherine Bearder!

  • Jonathan Pile 1st Jul '15 - 6:25pm

    Catherine is our survivor – she’s already made a big difference on tons of issues .worth ten men any day .

  • The journalist concerned is a white middle aged American male ….. so …. don’t be too surprised if it ticked a few wrong boxes with cut and paste quotes. Having said that, Catherine comes out of it reasonably well – though, yes, the article is a bit patronising. I don’t know Catherine, but she sounds like a good ‘un to me.

    Some of the spads in Europe would benefit from a life outside the bubble. The problem with the Clegg/Alexander/Laws ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ cabal was they hardly ever got outside the bubble of Orange Bookism. If they had, they might have seen the juggernaut coming.

    There was certainly an issue of promotion to the Cabinet – and the business to do with his Lordship the ex Chief Exec left a lot to desire.

  • Peter Thornton 1st Jul '15 - 6:38pm

    Currently at the LGA conference in Harrogate. If you’re looking for powerful Liberal Democrat women, they’re all here!
    Our council base doesn’t seem to suffer from the sexism alleged above.

  • Sammy O'Neill 1st Jul '15 - 6:38pm


    I’d suggest having a quick read of the website of a former Conservative turned Lib Dem MEP. The height of modesty and clearly a true man of the people I’m sure you’ll agree….

  • Richard Underhill 1st Jul '15 - 6:47pm

    In 2014 David Cameron performed a U-turn in successive weeks at PMQ. One week he thought that the human trafficking could be handled by the UK, the next week he had agreed it was an EU issue. Maybe someone sitting next to him had put a word in his ear.

    On the doorstep in the euro-elections the combination of the PM’s U-turn and Catherine Bearder’s campaigning against human trafficking gave voters a reason to vote and a reason to vote Liberal Democrat. More canvassers should have done this.

    We carried a motion against modern slavery at the first federal conference of the merged party, but it does need enforcement. One aspect is that Immigration Officers employed by central government should work together with local government near airports and seaports, particularly on “unaccompanied minors”.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Jul '15 - 6:59pm

    Catherine’s latest leaflet says
    “Wildlife crime is now the fourth largest illegal trade in the world.
    It is driving elephants and rhinos to the brink of extinction as well as many other species, including birds, reptiles and plants.
    It has become a lucrative source of income for armed groups and a growing threat to international security. The EU is is a major market and transit area for this trade.
    A comprehensive EU Action Plan will ensure that co-ordinated action is taken across the whole of the EU.
    To sign a petition visit Catherine’s website

    It would be wrong to see her as a lonely Liberal Democrat in the European Parliament. She is, for instance, the lead negotiator for the Liberal group of MEPs on air quality. A clear majority of MEPs have signalled that they do not want to see any weakening of EU proposals on air quality.

  • Gwyn Griffiths 1st Jul '15 - 7:02pm

    Who cares if the black rhino is wiped out, so long as we can get a Lib Dem as Deputy Rapporteur on the Committee for Constitutional Harmonisation ….

    [Yes, for the avoidance of doubt, that IS sarcasm and I agree 100% with Caron)]

  • Richard Underhill 1st Jul '15 - 7:26pm

    Catherine Bearder’s position as number one candidate on the Southeast list was due to election within the Liberal Democrats. There were several good male candidates. Elections to the European Parliament were part of a pattern in which we lost members, councillors and MPs. If our general campaigning works we should elect more MEPs in 2019, provided the UK makes the right decision in the referendum in 2016 or 2017.

    Catherine is a Liberal Democrat. Some of the other MEPs were pro-European refugees from the Conservative Party.

  • Catherine has been, and continues to be, a great campaigner. That is why I have read her here and elsewhere and I am surprised that LD members have not followed her work. I appreciate her skill and dedication – we need more of it a.s.a.p.

    As for comments from any male dinosaurs – be they journos or ex-somethings – remember that many dinosaurs died out because they could not evolve fast enough when their favourite conditions disappeared. It is still happening to them.

  • Sammy – Yes people should have the right to criticise, but they should do so by name. Anonymous briefing is cowardly and pathetic. If the volunteer who us quoted here feels so strongly then they should go and do are their time to something else.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Jul '15 - 7:37pm

    Sharon Bowles’ position heading the banking committee was hugely important, but difficult to explain on the doorstep.
    In the 2009 to 2014 parliament the Liberal group were the swing players between the Chritia Democrats and the Socialists.

    A single national list is a good idea in Malta or Luxembourg, not in Belgium, not in the UK where Northern Ireland elects MEPs by the Single Transferable Vote. Electing by regional party list was the “art of the possible” in a deal that Paddy Ashdown did with Tony Blair. Alan Beith MP tried to improve the system by allowing voters to move candidates up or down the list. Home Secretary Jack Straw went away to consult, to the amazement of Tories in opposition in the Commons.

  • Ben Jephcott 1st Jul '15 - 8:00pm

    This tone of this article is patronising and negative, though I can understand the view from unnamed ALDE staff (whom I presume are referred to by the ‘Liberal machine’) wanting her to take a wider role. But the only way for MEPs to be really effective is to concentrate on what can be practically achieved in a fairly limited area and then pursue it relentlessly to a conclusion – much as Chris Davies did on fishery protection, or Phil Bennion and Fiona Hall did on safer lorries. Maintaining a coherent PR narrative on a basket of EU issues is worth doing but it should not be allowed to swallow up too much MEP or staff time.

    I felt the Single Seat campaign was overplayed – because France will always veto getting rid of the Strasbourg complex, there is no political reason for them not to. After the first press release on the issue gets used, the next 20 odd just repeating the same point ad nauseam were spiked, in my experience. The constant repetition without any prospect of success just stokes cynicism about the EU among journalists and opinion formers.

    Catherine has also just won some useful changes to VAT for small business – an important constituency we should be targeting in our fightback. Setting up an all-party group for wildlife is another useful success, which should not be lightly dismissed in successive paragraphs as a ‘pet project.’ The biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs is a key part of the environmental crisis facing the planet – and could be tackled by better preventing illegal trade, a core remit for the EU. Human trafficking is similarly an issue of real public concern where further action could deliver tangible results.

  • The idea that the central party should decide who the “best” MEP’s will be and put them at the top of a national list is exactly why I don’t like list system PR (what a surprise that Blair and Straw liked it!)

    Determining who gets elected by the dictat of a “Strong Leader” is exactly what we don’t like about the House of Lords, and exactly what we did not like about the Soviet system, isn’t it?

  • “Sammy O’Neill 1st Jul ’15 – 5:58pm
    It’s a really tricky one this. On the one hand the party is incredibly sexist as I have found first hand- I don’t know any female lib dem members who don’t feel an element of this. Perhaps it’s more of an issue depending on your local party, but I have found it pretty bad.”

    I’m disappointed that no-one has picked up on the first part of Sammy’s comment which I have quoted above. Does no-one care that Sammy has encountered ‘pretty bad’ sexism in her local party and that she has first hand experience of the Party being ‘incredibly sexist”. Am I the only one to find that very disturbing?

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 1st Jul '15 - 9:25pm

    Catherine is a tremendous asset to our party (I have rejoined now that the DPM is no longer Leader). She is an excellent campaigner and I really really appreciate the type of issues that she campaigns on.

    Keep up the Great Work Catherine !!!

  • Donald Smith 1st Jul '15 - 9:28pm

    I agree the article is awful. I will merely make one comment – “Europe’s lonely liberal”. I thought there were something like 58 ALDE MEPs elected across the EU in 2014. Catherine sits as a member of large and vibrant Liberal Group in the EU Parliament. She is hardly lonely in Europe!

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 1st Jul '15 - 9:50pm

    Speaking as Catherine’s running mate last year, no-one knows better than I that she is a tireless servant of the people of the South East and we’re all very proud of her.

  • Excellent article Caron, thank you

  • Paul Reynolds 1st Jul '15 - 10:24pm

    The New Statesman here does the usual belittling job on Lib Dems. If it was an aricle on Edward MacMillan-Scott it would be all about how he was a turncoat from the Tories. If it was about Graham Watson it would be about how he is ‘resentful’ about never being leader of the party or some other such nonsense. If it was about Sharon Bowles it would be about how she ran the Economics Committee but still Greece went down, etc etc etc. If a journalists want to do a belittling job on the Lib Dems, as tey usually do, they will always find something. The next one on Lib Dem MPs will have a similar tone, for example how they can’t can’t cover all the issues of the day and so there will be pressures from the party to have an opinion on Calais immigrants, the Greek crisis, A&E wait times, language teaching in Durham etc etc etc plus the problems of MPs who are expecting to be unknown backbenchers haing to become global policy gurus and so on.probably adding that now meetings of the parliamentary party can be held in a Volvo estate ec etc. It doesn’t matter what we do, the journalists (many of whom are poorly trained press release processors, partisan and devoid of investigarory powers) will be looking for the nastiest angles. This is not journalism, it is puerile anger at our temerity not to fit in to their orderly world of two party politics, masquerading as in depth news.

  • Thank you Caron.
    The article in the New Statesman lowered the New Statesman in my opinion. I already have full confidence in Catherine Bearder’s prowess, performance and persuasiveness.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jul '15 - 10:42pm

    I thought Sammy O’Neill was a man? Subconscious bias!

  • Liberal Neil 1st Jul '15 - 11:23pm

    I’m very proud of a fair few few things I’ve done for the Lib Dems, but helping to get Catherine elected as our MEP is very high on my list.

    She is a fine campaigner and a few of the ‘big beasts’ could learn a thing or two from her.

  • Sammy O'Neill 1st Jul '15 - 11:36pm


    I think that’s part of the problem in the Lib Dems: people either don’t care, genuinely believe it’s all totally not true/made up or view it as unimportant. Although I very often disagree with some of her views, Caron does a great job in trying to raise the issue of sexism in the party. Unfortunately not many people seem to be listening to her.


    Haha a fair conclusion to draw, going on the names one sees in the Lib Dem Voice comment section you would statistically be justified to guess that way.

  • Neil Sandison 2nd Jul '15 - 6:15am

    Catherine is clearly doing some fantastic work on very important issues that matter to us all .Can I suggest that the party needs to bring these matters to the attention of its members and the public at large rather than depending on jaundice reporting. The reporter was much more interested in looking for an angle for his story rather than the facts of how this tireless MEP delivers for her region and Great Britain .

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Jul '15 - 7:57am


    “On the one hand the party is incredibly sexist as I have found first hand- I don’t know any female lib dem members who don’t feel an element of this. Perhaps it’s more of an issue depending on your local party, but I have found it pretty bad.”

    I am really sorry to hear that and unfortunately your experience is not unique. Feel free to email me privately and in confidence about the sort of things you have experienced ([email protected]). I’ve also got my Federal Executive hat on here. It’s something that most FE members are keen to tackle. Interestingly, I showed this article to both leadership candidates last night on Twitter and told them that this is an example of the sort of thing I meant in my question on Sunday and I think that they got it.

  • It is, of course, a pity that the journalist quoted picks out just male former British MEPs for comparative purposes, whereas he could have chosen Sharon Bowles, Sarah Ludford, Fiona Hall etc, and that could easily be depicted as sexism. However, overall, the tone seems to be criticising Catherine for the issues shge has taken up. What makes me most angry is the attack on issues around wildlife the environment etc, which some journalists and others seem to specialise in (Westminster bubble people particularly – many of whom also specialise in the daft neoliberal economics. If they got out there a bit, they would realise that they should change their focus, and quickly!)

    Anyway, Catherine over the years has done an incredible amount of work around business development in her region, and to understate that is very wrong.

    I cannot agree with your assertion, Caron, that every Lib Dem woman is aware of sexism in their local party. Many women in this part of the country have long been well aware they can take on many roles, at many levels, and have not been discouraged from them by local organisations. Women coming forward, of course, has always been an issue, although frankly getting any people to come forward for anything more than minor is not easy! Quite what you regard as sexism in this context, and how widely you draw your definition, of course, is also important in how widely you see it.

  • Nick Tregoning 2nd Jul '15 - 8:55am

    Good article Caron. If Catherine’s concerns are lightweight, then I’m also a lightweight, and so are very many of my friends and family. Why does the journalist (I use the word loosely) fondly imagine that Catherine doesn’t have other concerns and issues upon which she speaks and acts? Or didn’t he take the trouble to find out? Lazy journalism coupled with sotto voce mumbling from the disgruntled within the party was how I read it. I tend to dismiss any opinion pieces about us from either the Staggers or the Grauniad. They’re hardly without their own axes to grind.

  • I for one am fed up with fellow Lib Dems shooting at other fellow Lib Dems. We all have far more in common than drives us apart. For goodness sake, if you want to criticise people, take aim at those in other parites, not our own!

  • Eddie:

    Are you a man? (just checking! Short for Edwina?)

    Honestly though we should not care really should we? Views are views and are all equal!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Jul '15 - 10:44am


    I was quoting Sammy’s comment. It would be helpful if people could listen to her experience rather than try to say it doesn’t exist. She was talking about her local party.

    Let me just give you one example of the sort of behaviour that goes on all the time. Not that long ago, I was thinking of standing for election to a party position, as were two other women. On hearing this, a very senior party figure said: “Ooh, cat fight.” That is not good. It’s not something you would discipline someone for, but it’s the sort of behaviour that should be called out

  • The more articles such as this I see, the more I feel it is time for positive action to make both elected and officials more representative of the population. I have 11 and 2 year old daughters and used to feel that these type of battles would be over by the time they reach adulthood… Labour have led the way somewhat on elected representatives, although I suspect that many of the deeper rooted problems exist there in equal measures.

    As to her priorities I would have thought they were entirely appropriate, she is a lone voice and must pick issues she is able to have optimum impact on.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Jul '15 - 4:18pm

    Sorry my point was that online we can be a bit slow to react to sexism if we are not sure who it is happening to.

    Also, I am very sorry to hear of Sammy’s experiences too. Well done to Caron for providing her with guidance on what to do next.

  • Which leadership candidate will do more to eradicate sexism in the Lib Dem Party and what measures will they take to do so?

  • Caron Lindsay ” Let me just give you one example of the sort of behaviour that goes on all the time. Not that long ago, I was thinking of standing for election to a party position, as were two other women. On hearing this, a very senior party figure said: “Ooh, cat fight.” That is not good. It’s not something you would discipline someone for, but it’s the sort of behaviour that should be called out”

    There are far, far worse attitudes in the Party than that.

  • Sammy O'Neill 3rd Jul '15 - 3:19am


    Thank you for the offer and the support.

    To give a few examples in the hope of encouraging others to share/understand the sort of things members encounter:

    Having members refer to a council ward as “a man’s ward” when discussing candidates for the upcoming council election. When asked what was meant by this, it was clarified that they meant it would be a tough battle. Several weeks later a female member reported being told she should leave out this round of council elections as she may not have time to commit to it properly. She had just given birth to her second child and was upset by this, believing it to be the basis of that comment.

    Repeatedly being called “pretty”, a “sweet young thing”, “darling” “buttercup” etc by male members. I’m not against a complement (when it’s appropriate), but it’s pretty patronising repeatedly being addressed like that no matter the setting. Factor in alcohol and it’s often not nice to be a female member at some events.

    Over-hearing jokes about PMS from male members after a female member got upset at something that had happened whilst leafleting. Although apologies were later made, these only came after it was clear they’d caused real anger.

    Constantly witnessing (or being on the receiving end) of male members shouting down/speaking over female members, when they don’t behave in such a way to other male members. This obviously reduces willingness to participate.

    Over hearing one member expressing disappointment that the contingent of Oxford University Liberal Youth at an event “weren’t lookers”. When challenged, he laughed it off claiming “it’s ok if you’re as old as me”.

    For the most part my experience is of embedded casual sexism- often it’s just in the form of phrases used or inherently sexual, but sometimes it goes further than that. I should add that I’ve met a lot of thoroughly decent male members who would never ever do or condone such behaviour, but over the past few years I have seen more instances of sexist/unreasonable behaviour than I’d ever have expected to.

  • Sammy O'Neill 3rd Jul '15 - 3:24am


    I mean absolutely no offence in this, but I found your comment quite depressing.

    “Many women in this part of the country have long been well aware they can take on many roles, at many levels, and have not been discouraged from them by local organisations. Women coming forward, of course, has always been an issue, although frankly getting any people to come forward for anything more than minor is not easy! Quite what you regard as sexism in this context, and how widely you draw your definition, of course, is also important in how widely you see it.”

    A woman (or indeed anyone) simply being aware they can take on “many roles” does not mean there is not sexism. We’re not being done a favour in being able to take something on, it should be a normal expectation. The same goes for minority members of all/any demographic. The fact you seem to suggest there’s an issue of women coming forward in your area suggests there is a problem in itself there. The questions you and all of us should ask is why?

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jul '15 - 7:26am

    “The idea that the central party should decide who the “best” MEP’s will be and put them at the top of a national list is exactly why I don’t like list system PR”
    The lists are regional. Tony Blair is out of office. We should try to amend the system to empower voters to move candidates up or down the lists, as happens in other countries. Catherine was elected by our members,. Her experience as a serving MEP was an obvious advantage. There was a hustings at regional confernce in Guildford. Antony Hook was elected second on the list and campaigned energetically, including in the target seat of Maidstone and the Weald. Tunbridge Wells local party held a reception for Catherine at a cookery school, which is also run by a woman. We have had a female Westminster candidate (a Surrey county councillor) more than one female leader of our borough councillors, more than one female local party chair.

    The most important issue for MEPs of all parties is the referendum coming up in 2016 or 2017. An element of the

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Jul '15 - 8:20am

    Whatever the intentions of the author of the New Statesman article and those who briefed against her anonymously, Catherine Bearder comes out of this really well, a woman with her own mind and an admirable advocate for important causes.

    I was very sad that some hard working Liberal Democrats were swept away in the last election, but those who brief against her should realise that the only thing they damage, given that they are unnamed and cannot be judged as individuals, is the Liberal Democrat Party. They open the party up to the charge of hypocrisy.

    @ Mr Wallace,
    When people no longer use gendered language to devastating effect, I for one, will l no longer be obsessed with gender. I am seventy years old, so time is running out!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 3rd Jul '15 - 2:20pm


    Sadly, your experiences are painfully familiar.

    Many years ago there was a man who would interrupt me in meetings every single time I opened my mouth. I eventually got so annoyed by this that I spoke to him (in a calm manner that hid how really annoyed I felt). He actually had no idea he was doing it but stopped afterwards. We even got on ok after that. Until I breastfed my new baby in a meeting. The look of horror on his face was a picture. I made sure I sat behind him after that so he couldn’t see. And then he turned round one day….

    If you search for Ruth Bright on this site, you’ll find articles she’s written about the appalling things that happened to her as a candidate.

    We probably need to do our own “Everyday Lib Dem Sexism” thread somewhere.

  • Ruth Bright 3rd Jul '15 - 3:05pm

    Thank you for that solidarity Caron. What makes me sad now as an older woman is weighing up if and when to intervene on a younger woman’s behalf. Two days ago my little boy and I were queuing to buy ice creams in our local Co-op. The young woman in front of us was very beautiful and wearing short shorts. As she left the store I could see the guy on the till “clocking” the back view of this young woman on the CCTV as she left the store. I did nothing. I was 99% sure of what he was doing but not 100% sure. I did not want to embarrass her or my little boy or myself but I should have said something.

  • Caron and Ruth.

    It saddens me to hear these experiences especially in 2015 when we should have left such attitudes behind decades ago. ButI am interested to know why Lib Dem women put up with such behaviour? Is it simply that there aren’t enough women to make it possible to change the culture? What an be done by men and women in the Party to change such attitudes?

  • @Ruth – hopefully there won’t be a next time, but you could flush him out by saying something like “yes, her shoes would suit you.” If it was a young guy, then it would probably make him blush – but if it’s an older guy then I suspect that approach might not work so well.

    I was actually thinking about this earlier today. I was in the Toby pub in Perth, and while in the toilet noticed that they had a framed poster which was a selection of old seaside postcard cartoons – the sort of jokes which wouldn’t have been out of place in a Carry On film. I get the historical significance of them, as it shows the sort of casual sexism of the 1950s and 60s in the same way as some scenes from Mad Men do, but is it really appropriate for a pub toilet, especially one which is a family pub?

  • John Farrand-Rogers 3rd Jul '15 - 4:44pm

    I wonder if it has occurred to our (female) poster that many similar situations do arise in reverse?

  • John Tilley 3rd Jul '15 - 5:53pm

    People in this thread ask why the Liberal Democrats have a woman problem in 2015.

    Given the fact that The Orange Book tendency have been in the driving seat at the top of the party for the last ten years — perhaps we could ask David Laws or one of his colleagues to explain how the free-market, small-state, crypto-conservative approach has improved the position of women in the Party ?

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jul '15 - 9:30am

    I hope that the Press Officer for the Ribble Valley by-election reads this.,_1991
    The Conservative candidate went into a depression afterwards, but recovered and stood again.
    PaddY Ashdown told the Candidates Association at the Nottingham conference that he wanted people who could win in general elections (which started to happen via Bath).

    Heather Watson took on the World Number One on Centre Court yesterday and achieved her childhood ambition of becoming a role model, showing calm, courage, thinking under pressure, soft power, ,,, Wimbledon spectators love an under-dog and a Brit., and can look for further progress from Heather. Expect good reviews.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jul '15 - 9:38am

    It does happen that a female MP is followed by a female candidate.
    I met one such queueing for registration at federal conference.
    Part of the problem may simply be that the personal vote for the outgoing MP or MEP is personal to that person.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jul '15 - 10:46am

    John Farrand-Rogers – surely it is about an imbalance of power? Normally men have the power and women do not. When I was in my twenties and mocked by some male teenagers late at night on the almost deserted top deck of a London bus I was frightened. I was frightened because (although they were younger than my “little” brother) they had the physical edge over me to turn that mockery into something more dangerous.

    Of course men sometimes find themselves in a position where women abuse power and as Liberals we should condemn any abuse of power.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jul '15 - 10:55am

    Also, a quick apology Caron for taking this thread further away from the subject of Catherine. Catherine is a wonderful representative. It is a foolish mistake for anyone to assume that because she is extraordinarily nice she must therefore be politically lightweight!

  • Richard,
    You seem to have interpreted my comment on list PR as some criticism of Catherine Bearder or of female MEPs – but it was not at all… It was comment on some previous suggestion of moving to national lists… I agree that the Liberal Democrats handle the lists more democratically than some other parties, but STV would be far preferable. Everyone could choose between people of various genders and I would very likely use my vote to help women candidates in other parties as well as my own (I happened to look up the new Tory MP for Twickenham for example and I thought that with her record of helping people (as a doctor) in the third world she looked positive for a Tory. So after voting for Lib Dems I would have put her at the top of the Tories in an STV election… I am sure I would have voted enthusiastically for Catherine Bearder too, given the opportunity

    I was very happy that my vote helped Diana Wallis get elected as an MEP for my region. I was very sorry when she resigned in such peculiar circumstances, accompanied by some well-over-the-top criticism from some (male) MEP’s of all parties including our own, amid rumours of back-room deals between political groups in the European parliament. I see she stood for Yorkshire First in the General Election, so presumably has left the Liberal Democrats – a sad loss.. And I came across this: She echoed my own view that the Liberal Democrat view of the yes campaign in Scotland was ridiculously negative. (and contributed to our subsequent wipe-out in Scotland, in my view). Just shows how we should listen more carefully to sensible women MEPs!

    Meanwhile I am afraid your reference to Ribble Valley on this thread is too cryptic for me!

  • BTW Sammy and Caron:

    I think your experiences are disgraceful. I do not see such sexist attitudes amongst my students though (although I suspect they may still be there in some parts of society), so hopefully things will get better gradually.

    I would ask one question: Do the men who shout you down in meetings also shout down other men? In my experience some men (and even some women) are just rude to everyone. My father used to do it, but it was because he had very poor eyesight and really did not notice when other people were giving “I want to speak” signals. He would never have survived life with my PhD mathematician mother if he had been remotely sexist!

    The sexist language just should not be happening these days

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jul '15 - 4:13pm

    Ribble Valley had for us
    a candidate who was local and had stood before,
    an agent who had just won at Eastbourne,
    a county councillor of national recognition,
    not much money by modern statndards, but
    an issue which resonated on the doorstep,
    profits for campaigners at the bookies,
    lots of laughs,
    a cartoon by Chris Riddell
    smiles all round, without the backbiting which happens in losing campaigns,
    momentum which went on to a win in the Kincardine & Deeside by-election,
    momentum which cost the incoming Tory chairman in Bath his seat at the general election, as forecast.

    Hard to credit now, but we were knocking up soft Cons on polling day.

    There is now a majority Tory government who need to please the donors who provided all that money, so there will be more political opportunities.

  • Richard,
    Yes, that is all very good stuff but why on this thread? Lack of backbiting? or is there some personality involved in both events that I am just not getting?

    I think the slightly less positive lesson from Ribble Valley is that in 1991 we were in second place (from 1987) with 21.4%, whereas now we are in 4th place with 5.3%.

    We will actually have to be pretty lucky to get a winnable by-election in this parliament

  • Huge praise to Catherine Bearder MEP-and stuff the New Statesman. She obeyed the first rule – having the skill to get back in . I have found her willing to do quick research on a minority issue, and concerned enough to fire off a letter to the Commission which actually had some effect. What more can you ask? In my book, those qualities more than qualify her to set her own priorities, and I trust her to reflect Euro-voters’ view effectively. She is a worthy flag-carrier for Sir Graham Watson, Baroness Ludford and Sharon Bowles, three LibDems who really got the most out of the EU for the UK, and whose seats the party should have done more to protect.(PS anyone who -as above- admits he has not heard of this MEP forfeits their right to any respect where European matters are concerned )

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jul '15 - 12:02pm

    Yes, Catherine also asked a question in the European Parlaiment about air quality in Maidstone, a consequence of the one-way traffic in the town centre, parked, with their engines running, at red lights outside a car dealer.

    Similar issues exist in Tunbridge Wells and probably i many other places. Local councils may monitor the problems, but what do they do?


    Yes, John Major made a mistake when he sent the Home Secretary to the Lords, we laughed at the time.
    Michael Carr MP made a vigorous defence at the general election, but meanwhile John Major and Michael Heseltine had abolished the poll tax, the flagship policy of their former leader.
    Labour and the SNP also campaigned against it, but the SNP did not stand in England and Labour only put up a nominal effort in a seat they had no realistic hope of winning.
    A Tory majority government now will provide multiple policies to please the donors who have given £250 million under their current leader.
    We will need to unite and face outwards in the EU referendum in 2016 or 2017.
    Zac Goldsmith may provide an opportunity.

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