Jo Swinson on The President’s Club: Time’s up on this crap

Jo Swinson’s words were reassuringly unminced this morning when she condemned the appalling behaviour which took place at the President’s Club Dinner. She praised Madison Marriage, the FT reporter who wrote about it.

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.

There is something deeply distasteful about some of the richest and most powerful men in the country behaving in that way to young women on a tiny fraction of their incomes.

Jo wasn’t just going to leave it there with a few outraged tweets, though. She thought about how to hold these people to account.

She prepared, and persuaded 40 MPs to sign, letters of complaint to the Charity Commission.

The letter calls on the Charity Commission to urgently investigate the President’s Club “because of the “serious and potentially criminal nature of the behaviour.” and asks that the organisation investigates “whether the Trustees are fit to hold such office, given their apparent failure to properly discharge their duties to protect health and safety of workers, and the reputation of the charity.”

In the letter to the President’s Club Jo states that: “There can be no place in 2018 for respectable fundraising events which objectify women and subject them to groping and harassment.”

She warns that the Trustees have failed in their duty. “Indeed not only do the reported events of last week impact on the reputation of the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, they also put at risk the reputations of charities that were being supported by the event.

“No doubt these charity partners, sponsors and donors to the Presidents Club Charitable Trust will be reassessing their involvement with your charity following these revelations.”

And then she wrote another letter to the Trustees of the Presidents’ Club which was very well-resaarched and worth  publishing in full in case anyone else needs any of the references in it to tackle another injustice.

Dear Mr Meller, Mr Soning and Mr Ritchie,

As you know, today’s Financial Times publishes shocking and deeply concerning reports about the Presidents Club Charitable Trust fundraising dinner held last week.

There can be no place in 2018 for respectable fundraising events which objectify women and subject them to groping and harassment.  Raising large amounts of money for good causes is no excuse for the behaviour reported by FT journalist Madison Marriage: women working at the event being directed to wear specific underwear and ‘sexy shoes’, men repeatedly groping women,  or exposing genitals to them, or declaring ‘rip off your knickers and dance on that table’.  The reports certainly suggest several cases of sexual assault.

I welcome the statement issued, presumably on behalf of yourselves as Trustees, that these reports ‘will be investigated fully and promptly and appropriate action taken’.
However there remain several unanswered questions about the discharge of your duties as charity Trustees, and how such a situation has arisen in the first place.

In particular, I draw your attention to the Key Principles of the Code of Fundraising Practice (2016), which states that the work of all fundraising organisations will be ‘legal, open, honest and respectful’.  Section 15.2.2 states that with regard to employing staff at events, organisations have a legal duty to ‘carry out a sufficient and suitable risk assessment before undertaking an event of any size’.  That the event brochure apparently carried a full page warning that no attendees or staff should be sexually harassed suggests that the charity was aware of this risk.

  • Were any complaints made following previous years’ events, or were organisers otherwise aware of incidents of harassment or sexual assault at those dinners?
  • What measures did you as Trustees put in place, other than the note in the brochure, to manage the risk of harassment and sexual assault?
  • Were any previous attendees banned from attending the event on the basis of past behaviour?

ACAS provides guidance on dress codes within the workplace, crucially that they should ’relate to the job and be reasonable in nature’.  It is hard to imagine how it could be seen as reasonable to specify the colour of underwear for hostesses employed to assist at a charity fundraising event.

  • How did the charity carry out oversight of the agency providing the hostesses, and were they aware of requirements for hostesses to be ‘tall, thin and pretty’, and instructions on dress, underwear, make-up and ‘sexy shoes’?

Another key duty of Trustees towards the charity is ‘protecting and safeguarding its reputation’, as outlined in the Charity Commission for England & Wales’ Guidance.  This discusses the need to ‘identify the reputational risks your charity may face in its fundraising and to plan for their management’ and ensuring there is ‘adequate consideration of the impact of your charity’s fundraising on its donors, supporters and the public’, and ‘adequate control… over your charity’s fundraising approach’.

It seems clear that the Trustees have failed in this duty.  Indeed not only do the reported events of last week impact on the reputation of the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, they also put at risk the reputations of charities that were being supported by the event.  No doubt these charity partners, sponsors and donors to the Presidents Club Charitable Trust will be reassessing their involvement with your charity following these revelations.

In light of the seriousness of these concerns I am also submitting this complaint directly to the Charity Commission for England & Wales.

Yours sincerely,


Both letters were signed by most Lib Dem MPs and others including Caroline Lucas, Harriet Harman, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Maria Miller and Jess Phillips.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Helen Dudden 24th Jan '18 - 8:27pm

    I agree. Women deserve respect.

  • The real scandal is that women should have to accept such ‘work’

  • david thorpe 24th Jan '18 - 10:19pm

    jo is of course right, and as a working journalist i am proud of my profession tonight. however current lib dem media policy means investigative work of the kind carried out to make this piece happen would become impossible, so rather than just producing virtue signalling quotes perhaps jo and any other lib dem who wants to speak on this subject could make their actions louder than their words and change the current media policy so that excellent investigative work from journalists can continue in future.

    so my challenge to jo is, action or just words?

  • I found the requirement for the hostesses to sign a non-disclosure agreement particularly troubling. There would have been no need for this at a regular fundraiser, and its presence suggest that the organisers expected the kind of behaviour described in the FT piece.

    I’m wary of some calls to name and shame everyone on the guest list, as I think the focus should remain on those who actually carried out the abuse, and the organisers who facilitated it. Although I would like to know what it said on the invite, or do people just know, because it’s always like this?

    I’m disturbed by how many apparently sensible people, mainly men, are eager to defend, or down-play these events as fun for consenting adults and so on. Perhaps they haven’t read the full details, but if that is the case, why rush to defend it? On the other hand, I’m reassured to see cross-party support for Jo’s letter. I’m sure given a bit more time, there would have been many more names, and I can be reminded that sometimes MPs can put aside their party political squabbles to do the right thing and work together.

  • Well done Jo.

  • Shocking, it was a bit like the TV Show life on Mars and we’ve gone back to the 60’s / 70’s.

  • Jane Ann Liston 25th Jan '18 - 12:52am

    Aside from the appalling behaviour, note that this dinner, for senior figures in business and finance, was for men only. The implicit assumption is that senior figures in business and finance will naturally be men! In what century do the organisers think they are living?

  • If there is evidence of sexual assault then the Police must be called. The full guest list must be made public to all to see. Only by naming and shaming will these awful men stop preying on vulnerable young girls.

  • John Marriott 25th Jan '18 - 6:53am

    The sad fact is that you get a crowd of blokes (and ‘powerful’ blokes) together and that’s still the sort of behaviour you get.

  • Helen Dudden 25th Jan '18 - 9:06am

    If that’s the case for men only, is this the first time?

  • Well Done Jo. I am sure you will follow this thru. Please report back outcome.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Jan '18 - 10:52am

    The Alex cartoon strip in the Telegraph comments frequently on this kind of thing, often implying that costs are put on business expenses.
    A recent obituary reported on an actor, Robert Vaughn, being groped by a famous Hollywood actress, whom they named, but who has since died.

  • Ian Sanderson: If the charities really needed it they would not be sending the money back. Many people who were considering donating will not do so now. There is a need for a full investigation into the activities of those charities who seem to have excessive costs, particularly salaries and the large number who appear to be doing the same work.

    What will happen to the money which is sent back ?

  • Richard Underhill 25th Jan '18 - 11:35am

    23rd Oct ’17 – 5:43pm The actress referred to in the obituary was Greta Garbo.
    As a former caseworker in the Prison Service Life Sentence Review Section I worry about the risk of offenders injuring or killing their victims.
    The Parole Board (set up in law as a court) would always have at least one psychiatrist on the panel and would address the issue of risk, mainly risk of repeating offences. This can be difficult to judge based on reports from a category B prison in which a male offender is likely to have little or no opportunity for any form of contact with females. Prisoners do, of course, gradually get older and some will become more mature.

  • Rather than describing other people’s sexual behaviour as “stomach-churning”, it would be good to see Jo Swinson stick to the problems relating to consent rather than aesthetics.

    It seems some of the women didn’t know what they were getting into when they signed up – the dress code including knicker colour didn’t give them enough of a clue – that’s where the consent issues are and the agency should be in big trouble for not making it crystal clear what the job was to involve. That’s what politics is about.

    But we are also told that some men and women have been happily returning to this dinner for year after year. Our personal views on the aesthetics of that are of no more relevance to politics than are our personal views on the aesthetics of groups (far) more often persecuted by conformist desires to legislate other people’s behaviour. Let those men and women get on with it.

  • Denis Loretto 25th Jan '18 - 12:06pm

    While I echo the views expressed about this appalling “President’s Club” and welcome its demise, I agree completely with Ian Sanderson about the decision by some charities to return previous contributions from this source. This puts unfair pressure on other – probably smaller – charities who may well have spent the money and cannot afford to return it. The charities have done nothing wrong and to my mind should retain the money for their good causes, while checking their records to ensure no other such flawed sources exist.

  • Christine Headley 25th Jan '18 - 12:29pm

    Richard Underhill – I think you meant ‘psychologist’ for ‘psychiatrist’. Until September my husband was a member of the Parole Board who went to prisons to assess lifers for this sort of thing. He did it with judges and psychologists, being a retired civil servant himself.

  • Mike Falchikov 25th Jan '18 - 1:14pm

    Don’t return much-welcomed donations, but surely time should be called on such male-only events. There is in any case something rather distasteful about over-paid guys paying for over-priced dinners in the name of charity. If they’re that committed they
    should try doing some hands-on work themselves.

  • Sue Sutherland 25th Jan '18 - 2:18pm

    Well done Jo. At the moment we have a society in which it is acceptable for powerful men to prey on young women. This is the predominant way in which this type of abuse happens and hopefully society is on the brink of changing this behaviour. When that happens it should, of course, be totally unacceptable for powerful women to prey on young men. However, citing one actress who used her position of power in this way doesn’t mean that there is equality in sexual predation! One actress in the hordes of men in the film industry who have been behaving in this way for a century, since the industry was established. It was a common belief in my youth, that actresses who became famous had slept their way to fame as if it was their fault! Now we are seeing the reality. I appeal to the men in our party to “man up” to this situation and support Jo in this, so we see a real change in the relations between the sexes once and for all.

  • These are the people austerity was designed to protect. Rich, degenerates trying to disguise their awfulness by hiding it behind exclusives shindigs for “charrady” ( see, jimmy Saville).
    Good work from the financial times and well said Jo and Caron.

  • Like everyone else I find the behaviour of some of the men at this event fairly repugnant, and that’s assuming that some of it wasn’t actually illegal. But what’s to be done ? Simply urging people to behave better is pretty unlikely to work. I agree with those who have suggested banning such events. In my experience, mixed sex events are always far more civilised.
    Legislation exists that covers the provision of goods and services. All that is needed is to extent the definition of services to include the offer of club membership or participation and goods to include the sale of tickets to events. That would cover the Presidents Club and those redic men only golf clubs. Obviously centres for rape victims and the like would be excluded. The only problem (for some) is that women only book clubs and Race for Liife would suddenly become problematic. Still, can’t make omlettes etc etc.
    In the states Harvard University have banned all single sex clubs and societies, including fraternity and sorority societies. Seems reasonable to me.

  • Jayne mansfield 25th Jan '18 - 6:06pm

    @ Ian Sanderson (RM3),
    Is anyone troubled by the reported decision of some charity beneficiaries to return the money raised?

    Yes I am. I agree with everything that you say on the matter.

  • I think there is still a place for single sex events, and my understanding is that the Harvard ‘ban’ isn’t absolute. There is a presumption against them, but it is possible to get an exemption.

    However, the issue raised here is two-fold. The first is that as an event supposedly aimed at big business, why would you need it to be men only? The only reason they needed the guests all male, and the serving staff all female was so that the rich and powerful men could have a good letch. The message this sends about the role of women in business is hugely damaging. Anyone who thinks that the staff all somehow knew what they were getting into, and therefore can’t complain, should at least pause to wonder what sort of message that sends about what is acceptable in the workplace. If a company requires reception staff to be pretty, young, thin and tall women in skimpy outfits with matching pants, is that OK?

  • Ian Sanderson/Jayne mansfield… I disagree. How can it be unacceptable for the fund raiser to raise money in this manner, but be acceptable for the recipient to take it; where do you draw the line?
    As a member of the audience said, last night on the ‘Dimbleby Show’, “There is such a thing as ‘Dirty Money’…

  • Denis Loretto 26th Jan '18 - 11:52am

    Of course charities will not want to receive money from such sources once the truth about this is known. Those of us raising this issue are referring only to the past donations going back years. In today’s papers I see that some of the charities are saying apologetically that they have already spent the money. Is anyone seriously suggesting they should go into debt in order to reimburse the donors?

  • Helen Dudden 26th Jan '18 - 12:00pm

    Expat, I agree. How can it be acceptable to take the money made from an event that women, were belittled and humiliated.
    It’s shocking that the event has carried on this long, but until now, not public knowledge.

  • It is interesting to look at how Lib Dems are using this in a measured way to validly highlight the gender gap and the abuse of power which is not acceptable in a modern liberal society, and compare it with Labour’s reaction, where mere attendance at the event by Lord Mendelson, who was there as president of a charity that has received monies in the past, resulted in his being sacked – presumably because it was considered embarrassing by his party leadership.

  • Jayne mansfield 26th Jan '18 - 1:35pm

    @ expats,
    The money has been raised. The way it has been raised is now public knowledge.

    If undercover reporters had not attended the event, we would not know how the money was raised. Do you think that money from previous events held by the same people should be returned now that we know that some rich men think that they can buy the right to humiliate their fellow human beings? One would have to be incredibly unworldly to think that previous events were like vicars’ tea parties.

    Of course no future money should be accepted from these disgusting people who bolster their profile by raising money at such events, but now that money has been raised, if I had found myself being humiliated in the way that the women were humiliated, I would at least want the money to go the very good causes GOS etc., that it was intended to go to.

    If the trustees of the charities want to show their contempt, why should those who would have benefitted from the money raised have to pay the price of the trustees understandable moral outrage? And what would it achieve?

  • David Evans 26th Jan ’18 – 12:53pm……….presumably because it was considered embarrassing by his party leadership……………

    Or, presumably, because they thought it just plain wrong?.

  • To those of you who think this is something specific to rich, older men rather than men in general: What do you think happens when your menfolk on ordinary incomes, your sons, nephews, cousins and brothers, go to Amsterdam or Eastern Europe on stag weekends? Despite what they might tell you they don’t spend the whole time gazing wistfully into the waters of the Danube and thinking of their women back home.

  • David Evans 26th Jan '18 - 3:21pm

    expats – Wrong for a charity president that has received monies in the past, who was invited to attend and might reasonably believe that a) the charity he represents might get some more funds to do its good works or B) it might just encourage the people there to give more to other good causes?

    Do you really support blaming people just because they happened to be somewhere that some other people did some very nasty things? My Liberalism is founded on treating people as individuals and not blaming them for something someone else did. Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism seems to be based on guilt by association. I sincerely hope yours is not based on that as well.

  • Jayne mansfield 28th Jan '18 - 8:44am

    @ Richard S,
    I don’t for one minute believe that such behaviour is specific to rich, older men. I am all too aware that it isn’t.

    There are two important issues that arise from the behaviour of some of the men at the event, ( and all the men who attended the male only event).

    The first is, do these men who are in powerful positions compartmentalise their lack of respect for women and have different attitudes to my sex in the workplace etc., where they wield considerable power, or are they only capable of a superficial propriety with their contempt for women expressing itself in other ways?

    The second is a message to liberals who think and argue that girls and women are not demeaned by their objectification, whether that be by lap dancing clubs, pornography, or prostitution.

    For sure there are some women working in these ‘industries’ who argue that it is their choice, that they are in control, but for most, particularly girls and women from poor backgrounds, or backgrounds where they have been shown little respect from birth, it is nonsense to talk of their behaviour as a ‘choice’. The relationship is too often one of unequal power, and sometimes one of desperate need on the part of the women.

    I hope that events and behaviours that have recently come to prominence, women and male supporters , will at last be heard when they say, ‘No More’.

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