LibLink: Jo Swinson on “Sexual harassment: a chance for change”

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Jo Swinson has published an article on Medium titled “Sexual harassment: a chance for change“. She writes:

Many people have been shocked by recent revelations about the extent of sexual harassment in politics. Sadly to many of us it does not come as a shock, but we have welcomed the focus on a persistent problem that has too often been trivialised or ignored. Some sections of the media have — without any sense of irony — provided illustrative answers to the endless questions about why victims hesitate to come forward to tell their story. While it is depressing still to be having these conversations in 2017, it is also an opportunity — let’s welcome this scrutiny and turn it into a positive force for change.

A cross-party working group in Parliament to create an independent grievance procedure and provide better advice and support for those who experience bullying and harassment met for the first time this week. As the Liberal Democrat MP on that group, I am determined that the outcome should be sufficiently broad to protect people in constituencies and in Parliament, as well as ordinary members of the public.

She goes on to describe frankly her involvement in these issues – and some of the shortcomings – within the party:

I’ve reflected long and hard about my actions a decade ago. Did I do enough? My fear is that I did not. At the time I thought I had done everything I possibly could, trying to support these women — my friends — while getting the party to act on the problem, in what felt like a lonely mission.

And she then suggests four ways in which members can help:

1. If you’re experienced bullying or sexual harassment please consider sharing your experience. Making a formal complaint is an important way you can stop the issue being ignored. It is also powerful to talk to your friends and family, and in doing so make the problem more visible to them.

2. Be a better bystander. If you see harassment, from unacceptable ‘banter’ to unwanted advances, call it out or offer support to the victim, including as a witness if they want to pursue the issue.

3. Support others who speak out. It has taken a lot of courage for them to do so and there will be people trying to tear them down, especially if it is public. Kind words and practical support can make a big difference.

4. Press for change in your organisation. Are the policies sufficient? Does the practical reality match the rhetoric? What further changes are needed? The more allies raise the issue, the harder it becomes for employers and other bodies to ignore it. There really is strength in numbers.

You can read the article in full here.

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37 Comments

  • Paul Pettinger 19th Nov '17 - 4:38pm

    Leaders should display more courage and a higher commitment to values than others. I welcome what Jo is saying but am disappointed she has decided to speak out now (when comments could be conflated with assumed ambitions to be leader) and not before, such as during 2013/14 when brave people were speaking out and resigning.

  • Ruth Bright 19th Nov '17 - 4:56pm

    The full article deserves detailed attention. Jo Swinson’s statement on Rennard is painfully belated but a most welcome game changer.

  • Why do you omit all the “R” word?

    Jo also wrote ” I remain deeply frustrated that he was not expelled from the party through its disciplinary process. It just feels wrong, and I do not want Lord Rennard to continue as a member of the party. As far as I am concerned, he is not welcome.”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Nov '17 - 7:21pm

    @Paul Pettinger I welcome that Jo has spoken out now. It would not have been appropriate for her to do so in 2013/14 when a process, albeit a very flawed one, was taking place. You may remember that when it was concluded, she was on maternity leave.

    I think that Jo’s post is reflective, clear and extremely frank and I welcome her conclusions.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Nov '17 - 7:33pm

    Agree very much with Caron, this is appropriate and just about feels so, from Jo Swinson, the allegations being so denied by Renard meant the very strongly held belief for all Liberals , in innocent until proven guilty , put her and others in a quandary.

    We have moved on from that and this is another step thus.

  • Please remember in all this that ALL the women who complained about Rennard have left the party and the party has lost all their combined talent. I personally find that appalling. I have written both to our leader and our president pointing out that this boil has to be lanced before the party can move on.

  • Agree with Jo’s comments – but what’s going to be done about it ? It’s no good flying a kite and hoping for the best. Any action should be swift and decisive, otherwise this running sore will just continue to cause problems.

  • Doesn’t help when Rennard appears in pics with the party leader. Even if the leadership say he has no official role there may appear implied acceptance. There are enough media platforms out there waiting to use this against the party. Did Vince really say its time to just move on? Not sure that sends out the right signal.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Nov '17 - 11:23pm

    Sean

    I think if he said that he must have meant to move on with better procedures and to have learnt from the really definitely unacceptable mistakes, otherwise nothing is improved , no advances made.

    The lancing of a boil is one thing , but a person as stubborn and insistent is another, answers on a postcard to powers , in the party , we are not.

  • Lorenzo I welcome your explanation and sincerely hope the present review does result in further improved procedures.

  • “the extent of sexual harassment in politics”

    Unfortunately we actually don’t know the extent. Given the complete shambles of a system there is no way to know this. Immediate thorough investigation by the appropriate people (in the cass of criminal matters the police) is the only way to handle these situations. Everyone suffers from the wrong response.

    I take issue with the way the first sugestion for members. Reporting (preferably imediate but that isn’t always possible) is vital interms of formal complaints getting the system going to gather evidence and speed up action but:
    “It is also powerful to talk to your friends and family, and in doing so make the problem more visible to them.”
    Is a bit unclear. Speaking to those who are best placed to support is important but this could also be read as a general “let’s spread the word” instruction which is counterproductive. If there is something to warrant complaint it should be handled via a proper process which shouldn’t subverted.

  • Carlos Lozada in a column in the Washington Post on books of the year (that season is amongst us again) Mentions this book which introduces (for me) the concept of ‘himpathy’ : the language of exoneration spread to discourage discussion.

    >>>Most well-timed book I read this year: “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny” (Oxford University Press) by Kate Manne
    Though written before the flood of news reports of sexual misconduct by figures in Hollywood, the news media and politics, this is an exquisitely timed study. Rather than viewing misogyny as actions by individuals hostile to women for personal or cultural reasons, Kate Manne views it as a political force meant to “police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance.” Densely written — the author teaches philosophy at Cornell University — this book still forces a rethinking: “Misogyny’s essence lies in its social function,” Manne writes, “not its psychological nature.” Women who challenge misogyny’s rules suffer a backlash, she explains; just look at the 2016 election.<<<

    Washington Post 17 November 2017 'Book Party' column.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Nov '17 - 9:28pm

    I am appalled that the stuff about Chris Rennard has been dredged up again. It is deeply illiberal and politically very silly. Let’s just remember that there were several full investigations and Chris was found not guilty each time. How you expel someone from the party for being not guilty is not clear and such an action would be very very wrong. And very very illiberal. Why anyone wants to reopen this very damaging and divisive matter after it has been thoroughly put to bed is a mystery, but it is not sensible and not fair.

  • Edis Bevan

    “Kate Manne views it as a political force meant to “police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance.””

    Here we go again, it’s always fun when people bring linguistic activism to LDV. So there is yet an other book where someone deploys the well worn path of utilising persuasive redefinition (particularly with that word) to try and make some argument lacking intellectual weight stick by trying to utilise emotions.

  • I must take issue with Lord Greaves’s assertions:

    The complaints against Lord Rennard were found to be broadly credible and he apologised if he had inadvertently done anything which might be construed as invading someone’s space. That is a LONG WAY from “being found not guilty”.

    I am also beyond furious that he dismisses the concerns of members as “silly” like all those who care about having their personal space inadvertently invaded, as it appears we must refer to this, are just airheads who should pipe down and shut up and go and deliver more leaflets.

    That kind of comment is only going to fuel the fire of people who feel their concerns have been ignored for too long.

  • I think the way in which the Renard matter keeps coming up is not particularly productive. The key lesson from that was the need to have a proper system in place and to pursue it robustly and fully at the time, encouraging everyone to bring all information in to the process.

    Most people have no idea about the detail of the case (I certainly don’t) as only part of the information is public. It is perfectly normal for us all to form opinions on the situation based upon our incomplete knowledge and may have views on how the system of complaints formed by that impression. This bringing up of the case demand a different course of action from the one that has been taken when there appears no mechanism or additional evidence to do so does not look useful.

    I understand the displeasure with the what happened (from what I can tell from all sides) but if people want to bring this up perhaps it should be in the case of a specific outcome with an clear case for it.

  • I’m with ‘Jennie’ on this… If memory serves no investigation was carried out until at least 6 years after the first complaints were made (could that happen now?)…

    The difference between ‘not guilty’ and ‘insufficient evidence’ should be clear to Tony Greaves; it’s far more akin to Scotland’s ‘not proven’…

  • expats
    Presumably an investigation now would find the same as the previous investigation that was conducted years after the events. This is why this is such a mess, if you screw up first time around by not investigating then conduct a second investigation that doesn’t give you enough to act then I can’t see what a third would do.

    Incidentally the Scottish ‘not proven’ verdict does not mean what you think it does. It comes from a time when the verdicts were ‘proven’ and ‘not proven’ and when ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ were adopted ‘not proven’ was not removed. It is a popular belief that it means “we think you did it but there was not enough proof” but that is not what juries are instructed. Juries, therefore, have returned with either verdict which is not helpful to either side where there is an unclear outcome. An inconsistent impression on the meaning among jurors will give different occasions when it is used or not. Hence why the Scottish Government is consulting on abolishing it, at the moment.

  • paul barker 21st Nov '17 - 1:37pm

    Clearly the issue with Rennard has not gone away, it is still causing pain & damaging The Party. Perhaps its time to think realistically about how this boil could be lanced & whether we are willing to pay the price.
    Unless new evidence emerges Rennard cant be thrown out. He could be frozen out, sent to Coventry & made to feel mildly uncomfortable but that would need active co-operation from the majority of Our Lords.
    Failing that, Vince Cable could take the lead by refusing to sit in meetings with Rennard or appear in Group Photos with him.
    Whatever we do will attract more bad publicity & disrupt the fight against Brexit, that may be a hit worth taking, I honestly dont know.

  • James Brough 21st Nov '17 - 2:12pm

    Am I being unduly cynical in noting that the one person to defend Lord Rennard is also the one person to refer to him as Chris, rather than by title or surname.

    Defending a friend is an understandable and often noble thing to do.

    It can, however, also lead to the appearance of bias and of being too close to get the full picture.

  • Nick Collins 21st Nov '17 - 4:22pm

    Lots of people in the Party knew him as Chris long before he joined the House of Lords and continued to refer to him as such thereafter.

  • David Evans 21st Nov '17 - 5:22pm

    The one thing that none of those posting here have mentioned from the reports produced by Helena Morrissey is the one thing that says in effect they should stop this continual revisiting of a decision they don’t like.

    Her second report “Progress Report on the Processes and Culture of the Liberal Democrats” is very clear.

    The report states “At this point, December 2014, every investigation has concluded with no further action to be taken against Lord Rennard. The process over the past nearly two years – conducted according to the prevailing rules – has run its course and although the outcome is a source of great frustration to some, I believe that the Party can only move on if that outcome is accepted. At this stage, given that the Party applied its own processes, there is no justification for it remaining ambivalent towards Lord Rennard – he should be just as welcome a participant or guest at Party events as any other.”

    However for many this advice is not acceptable.

  • Mick Taylor 21st Nov '17 - 6:01pm

    I am sorry that Tony Greaves continues to wear blinkers as far as Rennard is concerned. He clearly sees the loss of a good number of very active Liberal women as less important than defending Rennard when it must be clear even to those who don’t know the full story that ‘broadly credible’ means just that and the women concerned were correct in their assertions against the former election supremo.
    I continue to be amazed that legal action was not taken against Rennard, because in my view there was a case to answer. Indeed I would strongly urge all past and future complainants to go to court because that is the only way to actually prove allegations or disprove them. A group action has much more chance of success too.
    In my view this boil will continue to fester until court action is taken. In my recollection there are few ways a member can be expelled. The only one I know is standing against an official Lib Dem candidate in an election. I am not sure if bringing the party into disrepute is a ground for expulsion. In the past some sexual predators have been suspended and banned from being candidates but I know of none who have actually been expelled. Perhaps this needs looking at anew.

  • David Evans
    “he should be just as welcome a participant or guest at Party events as any other”

    That appears to be the case but the current and future leaders are likely to not be particularly welcoming to him being in events that are going to have media at them.

    Mick Taylor
    “it must be clear even to those who don’t know the full story that ‘broadly credible’ means just that and the women concerned were correct in their assertions against the former election supremo”

    I’m afraid that to most who (like me) don’t know the details of the case the only thing we should assume is the author meant that the accusers were ‘broadly credible’ that is what was said if someone having produced a report chose to use particular words I have to assume the meant them and not some other thing that others want to translate them as.

    “Indeed I would strongly urge all past and future complainants to go to court”

    Absolutely, and the previous process did not escalate what amounted to actions that could be criminal is ridiculous. I worry that putting this basic safety mechanism in to the new policy wasn’t done straight away, it was a missed opportunity for the Board to have done the most basic simple improvement. If there is a possibility in the future of a case of criminal activity the police should be involved straight away, delays allow deterioration in evidence and delays possible future victims of being offered the full range of support.

  • Psi 21st Nov ’17 – 1:31pm…..expats
    Presumably an investigation now would find the same as the previous investigation that was conducted years after the events. This is why this is such a mess, if you screw up first time around by not investigating then conduct a second investigation that doesn’t give you enough to act then I can’t see what a third would do.
    Incidentally the Scottish ‘not proven’ verdict does not mean what you think it does. It comes from a time when the verdicts were ‘proven’ and ‘not proven’ and when ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ were adopted ‘not proven’ was not removed…..

    I am not suggesting that there should be a further investigation into the case; just that Tony Greaves was being rather disingenuous in his use of the ‘not guilty’ outcome…

    As for my not understanding the ‘not proven’ verdict; I suggest you read the history, evolution and meaning of that ‘third’ verdict…Regarding your assertion that “Scottish Government is consulting on abolishing it, at the moment.”…Such consultation has being going on for many years….

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Nov '17 - 4:02pm

    Due process in a Liberal democracy means includes a presumption of innocence in the absence of a guilty verdict. Read the Morrissey report. There is also the matter of double jeopardy. It is indeed just dredging up old accusations that have been dealt with under due process by the police and the party. This is damaging to the party and in principle quite wrong. I stand by my comment that it is therefore politically silly.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Nov '17 - 8:26pm

    David Evans, compounding one mistake with another does not wipe the slate clean. Had Rennard done as he should have and apologised unreservedly for his behaviour and taken a back seat for a lengthy period of time we wouldn’t be where we are now. It is because he was entirely mealy mouthed about his apology that so many in the party can’t forgive, let alone move on. The loss of a number of excellent women candidates and activists who felt totally undermined by the party’s enquiries is a far greater loss than would have been the loss of Rennard as a spokesperson for the party.
    Just because he was once a superb election organiser doesn’t excuse his behaviour. I am sorry that my longtime friend Tony can’t understand the very real problems of sexual harassment in our party. Rennard is by no means the only offender and not dealing properly with his case and many of the others – and breaking promises made about action on them – is only building up resentment and feeding the unhappiness of many in our party about the apparent lack of commitment to root out such behaviour.
    As I said before. Unless we lance this boil we won’t move on. Over to you Vince and Sal.

  • expats
    “I am not suggesting that there should be a further investigation”

    Apologies, I read your comment as another of the suggestions to revisit the case with no new evidence and no clear reasoning about how this was going to be different. But I agree that care has to be taken about how outcomes are described.

    As to your second point I don’t see anything specific enough to respond too.

  • Mick Taylor
    You are speaking as if there is a single set of agreed facts that it is simply a matter of acting upon. As In understand it though there appears to be agreement of that fact that behaviour was “inappropriate” the scale of how far the inappropriateness went is in dispute. The fact is that everyone behaves inappropriately at some point (perhaps discussing matters about an illness in an inconsiderate way close to a colleague who was has just lost a family member to that illness, to pick a non-physical one). The issue is where something moves from inappropriate in a way that is “understandable” (where misreading of a situation could be seen as reasonable) so an apology would be due, to one where the inappropriateness is beyond that.

    If there was agreement of the facts of the case then some of the requests to revisit things would make sense but there doesn’t appear to be agreement.

    As to the failings of the case and failings to deliver on promises made, the only lesson that can be learned surely is that you need a proper system in place and that people should not make promises that they will not be able to keep (perhaps there is another occasion that this lesson should have been learned?).

    You want to “lance this boil” but what does that mean? You want to expel someone from the party on the basis of disputed facts? You want to reduce the level of inappropriate behaviour at which people would be booted out to a level (which is undisputed but) would capture many many instances, which in these other instances both parties would ultimately be happy with an explanation and apology? If it is “bringing the party in to disrepute” much of the disrepute was the terrible process that involved many senior figures, are they to be thrown out? Is it giving the party leader the right to throw out members for any reason? Demands for “action” are popular but what that means is very important. If you have a clear course of action that solves this issue I think everyone would be really happy to have it finally resolved, but all I can see is a big mess with complexities that many are not willing to acknowledge.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Nov '17 - 10:15am

    “Had Rennard done as he should have and apologised unreservedly for his behaviour and taken a back seat for a lengthy period of time we wouldn’t be where we are now. It is because he was entirely mealy mouthed about his apology that so many in the party can’t forgive, let alone move on. The loss of a number of excellent women candidates and activists who felt totally undermined by the party’s enquiries is a far greater loss than would have been the loss of Rennard as a spokesperson for the party.”

    This sums it up well.

  • Mick Taylor, I note your response to me, but should it not have been a response to Helena Morrissey and the party three years ago when she released her report? I don’t know, perhaps you did raise it then with her or the party, could you let us know if you had a response?

    You also say “Had Rennard done as he should have and apologised unreservedly for his behaviour and taken a back seat for a lengthy period of time we wouldn’t be where we are now. It is because he was entirely mealy mouthed about his apology that so many in the party can’t forgive, let alone move on.”

    However, Alistair Webster, the QC appointed by the party to examine the evidence in the disciplinary case stated that he thought Lord Rennard “would wish to apologise to those whom he had made to feel uncomfortable, even if he had done so inadvertently.”

    According to the Morrissey report “Lord Rennard issued an apology through his lawyer, who said that “he wishes to achieve closure…he would therefore like to apologise sincerely for any…intrusion and assure that this would have been inadvertent. He hereby expresses his regret for any harm or embarrassment caused to them or anything which made them feel uncomfortable”. All in all, almost exactly what was put forward.

    So the question you need to answer is ‘Should Lord Rennard have to apologise to the standard required by the person appointed by the party to investigate, or to a totally different standard someone else wants?’

    Overall, members need to consider whether we should accept the report of an independent person, chosen by the party, or whether, three years on, they want to cherry pick the bits they agree with while ignoring the bits they don’t like.

    All in all, to me it seems that the only reason the party does not move on is because Jo dragged us back to it once again and so many, including yourself, responded to her call, and I see nothing to indicate that it will not happen again and again and again. That is my biggest concern for Liberal Democracy and any concept of Due Process.

  • Ruth Bright 23rd Nov '17 - 1:10pm

    I would plead with everyone to look at the New Statesman website and read Alison Goldsworthy’s account. Too often we hide behind euphemisms about personal space instead of talking about which garment and which part of the body was involved.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Nov '17 - 4:43pm

    What Ruth Bright said. I have done so and was once again appalled by the lack of serious action by the party

  • I have just switched off an hour of MTV. Great records but pretty much ALL the accompanying videos depict women as gift-wrapped packets for powerful men to dispose of as and when they see fit. Surprise, surprise, a huge number of our young people of both genders still suck this conditioning c**p in subconsciously, whatever their ‘right on’ political leaders and teachers are saying to them. Seriously-depressing. It affects both what they do personally and what they ‘accept.’ 🙁

  • Ruth

    I think it needs to be clear that the euphemism that are being used are euphemisms for whatever Renard’s version of events as that appears to be as much information as exists about his version of events. I don’t think anyone is using them to describe the accusations. The issue is one of disputed facts of the time with a time delay that appears to have significantly damaged the ability to have a clear finding either way. The problem is not people thinking what is alleged is minor but the absence of a definitive finding.

  • Another point why the party has to pass any accusation of criminal activity to the police is that some people may feel out of a sense of loyalty to the party, or their friends in the party, matters are best dealt with internally to avoid embarrassment to either.
    Immediate referral to the police stops some people harming their case due to their own good intentions. The party should recognise that the best outcome in the long run is as best an enquiry as possible as soon as possible and that individuals should not forego the best opportunity for justice for the party’s benefit.

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