LDV’s Top Twelve of 2016: #7 Unwelcome behaviour at Conference

Over the next few days, we will be publishing our twelve most read posts of 2016. Many thanks to the 533,000 people who have visited the site over the past tumultuous 12 months. 

In this post a long time attendee at Liberal Democrat Conference points out some behaviour they experienced at Conference which indicates that the culture of the party needs to change.

As a long time conference attendee, I adore the opportunity to meet Lib Dems, old and new, and engage and enthuse with like-minded people. But sometimes behaviour boundaries are pushed and we need to make a note of them to remind ourselves to challenge insidious sexist behaviour.

On the morning of Saturday 17th September, Lib Dems received a message from the Conference office entitled ‘Conference Guidelines’ which sets out details of what is unwanted behaviour.

Contemplating this, I thought it might be interesting to relate some unwelcome behaviour I encountered. I want to do this anonymously, but am aware others have noticed similar issues and feel it’s important we stand up to and challenge incidents like this when they occur.

On one day I attended the motion on Social Security. Now, it was a strong debate, with lots of opposing views. But when making those views, it should be noted it’s unacceptable to refer to a female speaker as “darlin’”, no matter how well you might know that individual. The language is sexist and patronising. While I believe the comment was made in an attempt at friendliness, it is still derrogatory and quite simply, should be wiped out. It’s on a par to David Cameron’s “calm down dear” episode at PMQs, and where we wouldn’t take the insult from the former Prime Minister, neither should we take it from friends or acquaintances. 

Later in the same day, I was keeping an eye out on a female friend who, by her own admission, had had a bit too much to drink when she disappeared. Asking a male acquaintance if he’d seen her, he responded with something along the lines of “Oh, my friend here would like to know if there’s a drunk girl about”. The implications are clear. No woman should have to feel she is vulnerable to unwanted advances in the event she has consumed alcohol. Meant as banter, this sort of statement is totally unacceptable. I challenged it then, and I believe everyone should challenge these lines of ‘banter’ when they occur.

A last observation, the Hilton Metropole had a system which blocked mobile phone reception unless you paid for internet access, or indeed were a guest at the hotel. I do believe this made a lot of people vulnerable – forcing them on to the pavement outside to gain reception in order to check messages, take calls and generally contact people. When there are nigh on 2,000 people at conference, this placed a lot of people in difficult positions, and I believe at times vulnerable. When seeking a friend who was intoxicated, it made it very difficult to use modern technology to locate her.

I believe the Conference Committee should oppose any system like this in future venues, including hotels used for fringe events. Safety should not be dependent on your ability to pay extortionate prices for mobile access.

Hopefully we can all take lessons from this, and be confident in standing up to sexism, even when disguised as banter or familiarity, and work towards a more equal society.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of some of the comments being posted, we will now be pre-moderating all comments for this thread.

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