What Lib Dem members think about The Morrissey Report into alleged sexual harassment within the party

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

79% of Lib Dem members support Morrissey Report

helena morrissey reportThe independent Morrissey Inquiry, set up by the party following allegations of sexual impropriety against the party’s former chief executive Lord Rennard (which he denies), reported in June. Are you broadly aware of the report and its recommendations?

    67% – Yes

    28% – No

    5% – Don’t know

How effectively do you think the party has communicated the findings of the Morrissey Report?

    22% – Effectively

    44% – Not effectively

    23% – Neither effectively nor ineffectively

    11% – Don’t know

I’ll admit I was slightly surprised by this response: almost half of those who responded felt the party had not communicated the report effectively. An email was sent to all members for whom the party has email addresses from chief executive Tim Gordon on the day of The Morrissey Report’s publication (12th June); and for that matter we covered it pretty extensively here on LibDemVoice. One comment that did worry me was the note that there had been little to no direct communication to local parties — even though part of the Report is concerned with allegations of bullying that takes place at the local rather than national level, and how these are often not resolved well or at all.

The Morrissey Report’s recommendations include the party appointing a pastoral care officer, changing its standing orders, and rules at all levels to state that bullying and harassment are unacceptable. Which of these statements comes closest to your own view:

    46% – I support the Report’s recommendations and believe they will make a positive difference to the culture within the party

    33% – I support the Report’s recommendations but do not believe they will make much difference

    6% – The Report’s recommendations do not go nearly far enough to tackle the issue

    8% – The Report’s recommendations are mostly unnecessary as I don’t think there is a major problem within the party

    1% – Other

    5% – Don’t know

Almost half party members (46%) take a positive view of The Morrissey Report: they support it and think it will make a difference. Another third, though supportive, are also sceptical, reckoning it will make little difference; something Helena Morrissey will be back to check for herself next year. Relatively few members, 6%, think the Report needed to go much further. Eight per cent of Lib Dem members view the Report’s recommendations as “mostly unnecessary”.

Here’s a sample of your comments:

Totally support the Morrissey recommendations and we NEED more communication about what’s happening. Nick needs to be stronger on this and committed to stamping out harrassment and bullying within the party.

Changing people’s attitudes is the problem and reports only highlight potential solutions. It’s how you enforce change that’s the key. People don’t like to admit their attitude is at fault.

The rules will be abused by some to pursue personal grievances. Is the party capable of distinguishing genuine harassment? Not on previous evidence.

We are an underfunded party and a lot of what we do is driven by volunteers. I don’t think we can expect a pastoral care officer to deal with all of this. However, the controversy itself will probably help reduce incidents of this kind considerably.

There seems to be a lot of emphasis on supporting party staff who might be victims of such harassment and not enough on volunteers.

The whole thing is preposterous. The ladies concerned were grown up, ambitious and articulate.

The recommendations should help, but they key thing, above all else, is that we take this seriously. Some of the recommendations apply to HQ, or to other party bodies with a similar ability to get on with change quietly. Many others require better awareness at every level, and that will inevitably be the most difficult aspect.

The recommendations overreact and impose significant overheads on largely voluntary bodies of the party that will be difficult to manage.

I trust that the party will implement them fully, but I struggle to have faith that anything will change. It really is offputting to give up so much of your time and effort for a party that doesn’t value your viewpoint.

It is excellent and we are acting on it in our local party

The recommendations are perfectly reasonable. They wont’ make much difference as the bigger issue is the culture of politics generally.

Bullying is a major issue for staff, who often come to the party very inexperienced. I have lost count of the number of organisers Ihave seen being bullied and exploited. If I had realised the Morrisset Report (which I thought was pretty good) would take the direction it did beyond sexual harassment I would have been in touch.

Having responded inadequately to the original allegations, there is a danger of overreacting now.

However, there is still a substantial section of the party that think this isn’t important and often refuse to accept that some men behave in this way. (It is sadly mostly men) Too many people think that Women in politics are able to stand up for themselves

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Just over 600 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 23rd July.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    20 Comments

    • R Uduwerage-Perera 4th Aug '13 - 8:41am

      I was extremely heartened at recent English Party Executive Council meeting to hear the views of the attendees, the vast majority stating that the Morrisey Report had not gone far enough in challenging the culture of the Party over issues of intolerance, and harrassment.

      We now need to turn these positive intentions into real action within the Party, and pull back from the ‘ends justifies the means’ culture that is dismissive of change and politically is leading some of our Parliamentarians and their advisors into supporting very unhealthy and illiberal Tory policies, such as the attack on the vulnerable in society.

      A Party that does not treat its own members with respect and dignity and values their contribution, will treat the public with the same or even worse disdain.

      I still believe that at its core this is still the Party of equality and fairness, but it has unfortunately lost its way. All is not lost, we can regain the moral high ground by stopping the Tories onslaught on civil rights.

    • Helen Dudden 4th Aug '13 - 9:15am

      I am sorry but I do not feel the same. As a woman, before I left the Party, I felt that I was just that, a woman.

      Having just made comments on international law, and the 28 children that have died in domestic abuse and the number is rising. My interests are with those children who have been abducted and until quite recently, a very difficult problem to resolve both financially and emotionally. It is improving.

      My concerns are that the Party only takes easy options with problems. Family Law is another subject.

      With the subject of children who have eating disorders, and see themselves as something not in fashion, I would see this as a very important issue.

      It is easy to take the easy option, but not easy to stand up and ask why?

      Very recently again, a child is abused and treated so badly it dies from the injuries sustained. No one saw anything or knew anything.

      The NHS and the problems with housing, these were in the High Court very recently.

    • R Uduwerage-Perera 4th Aug '13 - 9:31am

      “My concerns are that the Party only takes easy options with problems”

      Helen, I could not agree more with you. The Party has to decide whether is truly believes in the principles that is espouses or whether it prefer expedience. On matters of civil rights the latter is I would suggest not the appropriate option.

      The Party cannot afford to lose people such as yourself, and I truly hope and will work towards redeveloping it (although there is a significant minority opposing change), so that you feel that it is worthy of your membership.

      I live in the hope that there will be a revolution amongst the membership to bring the Parliamentarians with a liberal and democratic philosophy back into the Party.

    • One of the major problems (and this key issue of expediency – and electoral success – winning out over practising what you preach – sticking to the party’s declared values – is NOT a new problem) is that employees of the party, and key functionaries drive a fair amount of this. As a political party, our main indicator of success is how many and at what levels we can get people elected. So as in any organisation, other important – and probably less measurable – goals have been left high and dry. Stephen, if you were surprised – you need to get out more (I fear you probably belong to the category of “employees / key functionaries” I refer to. )

      I wrote, what I thought to be a measured response, immediately Tim Gordon sent his email. To date I have received no reply. This rather speaks for itself.

      Two comments on the comments here:
      1 People seem still not to be picking up on the issue of volunteers, tending to think of them as people who do menial work, rather than a mix of all sorts, from senior decision makers to non-members who deliver, do clerical support work etc. There is not ONE solution as to how to deal with this issue.

      2 People are not also picking up on the many non-sexist aspects of this. Politicos, by their nature, are wanting to make things happen. Those who get elected are therefore often go-getters, and those are just the type who can often verge into bullying to get other people to take their demands urgently. This is a real problem, and while it MAY, in our society often fall on men (alpha males etc) it is not exclusive to men, and we should not look on it as an exclusively gender specific issue.

    • Helen Dudden 4th Aug '13 - 12:42pm

      @R Unduwerage-Perera I thank you for those kind words, you are the first on the Lib Dem site.

      As a woman I feel we do have much to give, and I would love women to be allowed to do just that. We tend to be in situations of care issues. Most certainly, I do not in any way say that any men working within do not produce some excellent ideas.

      At a very recent meeting on law and children, I met a very caring positive person, he is working on child abuse, this aspect is possibley one of the worst in the issues involved. I personally, could not cope with the day to day need to vigilant, and remain very positive on the constructive need to make change happen.

      Again, thank you for being so positive.

    • 28% of people aren’t aware of the report but have a view on it?

    • R Uduwerage-Perera 4th Aug '13 - 7:39pm

      Helen, as previously stated at a recent English Party Executive Council the feedback from the attendees was exceptionally positive. Tim Gordon himself stated how he personally felt that the Morrisey Report had not gone far enough. This I take as a very positive statement on the part of the Chief Executive of the Party.

      The need now is to turn the ‘goodwill’ into meaningful action, and although I along with others, may be incredibly frustrated at times by the apparent lack of motivation or movement on the part of many of our Parliamentarians and the ‘Professional Staff’ on these issues (with a few very noticeable exceptions), there is clearly a desire for cultural change within what is know as the ‘Voluntary Party’ (the members).

      I would personally and seriously request that you to reconsider your position and come and join those of us (and we are growing in number by the day) who wish to aid the Party to genuinely change. I can assure you in a terribly ‘Churchillian’ manner that the task is not an easy one, and we will have to lose blood, sweat and tears, but we will either assist the Party to become genuinely the party of equality and fairness, or it will wither and ultimately die, for there is not real other choice. If one wishes to be a ‘cold hearted XXXXXXX’ then there are the Tories or UKIP to join. As for Labour, well I left them when they walked away from the civil rights agenda that they had allegedly championed for decades and decided on a path of expedience.

      As Kitchener would have said had he been a Liberal, as opposed to a “cold hearted XXXXXXX” – Your Party Needs You! Please come back…

    • Simon McGrath 4th Aug '13 - 9:53pm

      Ruwan – what is it that you want the party to do that it is not doing?

    • Ruwan – I should be very careful with the use of “the voluntary party”. That is the term used by the Tories, and illustrates the very different relationship in their party between the professionals, the leadership, parliamentarians etc, and the hoi-polloi.

      Our difficulty (as Helena Morrissey as a newcomer to the party struggles with, and tries to describe in her report), is that we do not have simple unitary, linear relationships in the Lib Dems. Even more so now, with such a hollowed out party, and so many roles unfilled, or filled only by people who are unenthusiastic, so trying to treat the culture, at the same time as rebuilding our political raison d’etre, and our electoral success, seems to be a nightmare of unachievability.

    • R Uduwerage-Perera 5th Aug '13 - 1:01am

      @Tim13 clearly we have been hanging around Tories too longthen, for the terms are those banded around by some HQ Staff, they are not mine and I think that they are appalling hence I highlight them. I am not the only person to have heard these inappropriate terms used regulary at HQ, and this is also matter that has been discussed at the recent and past ECE meetings and within other fora. Let us not try shooting the messenger please!

      As for the structure of the Party which I agree is chaotic, this is no excuse for a failure of the Party culture to treat people with respect and dignity. The culture of the Party surely should be a reflection of its raison d’être?

      @Simon McGrath, for once a questions of yours requires a simple answer – Change and refect the core tenets.

    • I was not aware that it had reported and this is partly because I do not read most emails from HQ. However I missed the discussions on Lib Dem Voice because I don’t come here every day and only 30 items are displayed on page one and some topics have more than one article (recent examples are Caste, new Lords and lessons of the Coalition). However now I have read the report and I have two concerns with the recommendations. Helena Morrissey talks about creating a safe environment for complaints to be raised. However if people who complain are treated as if they had committed gross misconduct if the complaint is not upheld (rec 2 and 4) they will not feel safe in complaining. Secondly that bully, harassment or intimidation should not be considered as bringing the party into disrepute (rec 1). The constitution should be amended so that these are treated the same way as bringing or likely to bring the party into disrepute. We could also add racist behaviour.

    • The number of people I know who just delete emails from party HQ, mostly with a heavy sigh, the communication result doesn’t surprise me…

    • Ruwan – thanks for your reply. Yes, I hadn’t heard Voluntary Party from our HQ – shows how out of touch I must be getting!! Must be a term Nick Clegg has brought back from a meeting with Dave! Of course, I thoroughly agree with you, Helen Dudden and all others trying for less harassment, bullying and a bit more respect for everyone’s views. I have been trying to show it is difficult in a political party, and we all at local level need to give it some time and attention – and often courage to take on offenders, who are often powerful members of our local parties!

    • Also agree with Amalric in his/ her criticism of the specific recommendations. It is doubly difficult trying to implement something like this when our Government has been going the other way, eg on employment tribunals, making it that much harder for complaints to be made, or with the scrapping of national conduct standards for Councillors, leading to no situation where Cllrs can be either banned or suspended for this kind of behaviour. It is all very well criticising “red tape, too much bureaucracy” etc, but these cases often involve strong feelings on all sides, so “bureaucracy” is often needed to show what has actually gone on, before taking life changing decisions. Morrissey has to come to terms with that, and the likes of Nick Clegg needs to think through consequences at the outset.

    • Spencer Hagard 5th Aug '13 - 3:14pm

      Helena Morrissey’s report (‘Processes and Culture within the Liberal Democrats’) is a model of skilled analysis and sound recommendations. As reported above, almost 80% of LDV survey respondents support the recommendations. But over four in ten of those supporters do not believe the recommendations will make much difference to the culture within the Party. This points to significant – and historically well-based – scepticism about the Party’s commitment to implementation, &/or its ability to implement successfully and sustainably, &/or at all levels and in all key places. The Party clearly needs to be sure footed in dealing with this, primarily and overwhelmingly because of the issues in their own right, but also because anything less than evident success would be humiliating and damaging, indicative of lessons unlearned and further failure to come.

      On 25 July, within six weeks of the report’s publication, an advertisement appeared on the party website for the recommended post of Pastoral Care Officer. The post appears to carry responsibility for implementing recommendations 1-6, but not 7 & 8 (about under-representation) nor 9 (about creating a virtuous circle)*. Although the Party leadership will need to explain how it proposes to deal with 7-9, its strong endorsement of the Morrissey Report is now tangible. So, it’s time for the Party as a whole to get stuck in, not into the leadership for not doing everything it needs to do – I’ll come to that shortly – nor into nitpicking the Party’s or the Report’s imperfections, but getting down to the serious practicalities of implementation at all levels.

      Putting it delicately, our skills at managing people, in their variety of personalities and expectations, are mixed, and our track record of implementing and sustaining major, Party-wide projects is not unblemished. To succeed, this project requires a high level of sustained focus that we have often achieved in campaigning, but rarely in systematic organisational management, and perhaps even less in how we care for our staff and volunteers across the Party. There’s plenty of evidence of our past failings in the Report! To overcome the dismal precedents, the leadership now needs to propose to the Party that implementation is a top priority. That they see it as a priority seems evident in their initial reception of the Report, and by the speedy appearance of the job ad, but they have yet to define, propose and communicate it as such to the Party at large, and spell out the significant implications of making it a top priority, especially the implications for managing implementation, for resource allocation, and for training.

      According to the job specification*, the Pastoral Care Officer is ‘responsible to’ the Party President. Making an item as demanding as Morrissey implementation a top priority for the Party would almost certainly require it to be defined and managed as a one-off, high profile project. It would need tightly-defined, time limited terms of reference, a small, dedicated implementation advisory group, able to drop sufficient other activities to enable this to be given the time and attention it required (including by Tim himself), and with a communications strategy that was part and parcel of overall implementation strategy.

      The job spec has a lot to say about the breadth of desired skills and experiences of the eventual post holder, about the substantial range of responsibilities of the post, and about the great range of contacts that will need to be established and sustained, but says nothing as far as I can see about the possibility of additional resources – human, material and financial – that would enable the job to be properly done. If implementing Morrissey is a serious project, it will require substantial additional resources to launch and establish over time. The Report and now the job spec allow no other possibility. Not everything can be a priority. Difficult choices will have to be made.

      Implementing Morrissey is going to be as important at local level as at HQ or in MPs’ offices. Here’s another area where we’ll have to do things differently in future. Whereas the job spec refers in conventional Party terms to providing training at Conference and to MPs and PPCs, and to advising, guiding and supporting local parties to follow appropriate policies and procedures, a fundamental implication of implementation is that we’re all going to have to manage staff and volunteer relationships, including problems when they arise, in essentially the same way across the whole Party. And that implies designing and rolling out a programme of training across the organisation, undertaken by each organisational entity, without exception, no opting out. Albeit more John Lewis than Special Boat Squadron, involving all of us at all stages of its design, development and adoption, not simply left to HQ, but also not an optional extra.

      Helena Morrissey’s excellent work demands a correspondingly excellent response across the Party to enable us to “Progress & create a virtuous circle”. Let’s now provide it.

      Spencer Hagard,
      Chair, Cambridge Liberal Democrats

      *http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/docs/jobs/Application%20Pack%20-%20Pastoral%20Care%20Officer(FoW).pdf

    • Simon McGrath 5th Aug '13 - 4:10pm

      @Ruwan “@Simon McGrath, for once a questions of yours requires a simple answer – Change and refect the core tenets.”
      What specifically should change ?

    • I’d love to be with you on this, Spencer, and you clearly recognise problems with trying to do this nationwide. As a trainer, I am sure this would be a major challenge for any national, or large organisation, but with the complexities we have, different types of organisational entities, interacting with different bodies, eg Councils, Parliaments, Assemblies, Police, Health, Fire etc bodies, some people with voluntary managerial roles, some with paid subordinate roles, some just as “customers” fundamentally (I could go on), it is nigh on impossible to guarantee any outcome. Neither Nick Clegg nor Tim Gordon’s writ fully runs in all these areas. You are not able to simplify the organisation without major change to how “we do politics”, and as Helena recognised “how we do Liberal Democracy”. I think, while important to start on this task, to accept without major analysis of the task, the outcomes we want, and where we might go in our current reduced state, could lead to very little at all. You may feel up to it in Cambridge an MP held seat with an educated and large membership. most others won’t.

    • @ Spencer Hagard

      To talk about nit-picking the report does not address the issues raised. I support the direction of travel but believe taking on board my concerns would make its implementation more widespread. To change how complaints are dealt with there has to be a safe environment for complaints to be raised and full implementation will not achieve this because having any penalties for people who raise complaints is wrong. Malicious accusations need to be addressed and this should be done with regard to justice: for employees it should be addressed via the disciplinary procedure but not at the nuclear level of gross misconduct; for volunteers it could be added to reasons for revoking membership. To hide away in codes of conduct that bullying, harassment and intimidation are ways of bringing the party into disrepute does not mean it applies to all members and will not be seen by most members. To include it in the constitution will ensure that when someone thinks about making a complaint there is one place to find the rules and a list of what actions can be complained against.

    • Please can someone who is going to conference propose amending the President’s amendment of the constitution? He is proposing:

      “Re-number existing Clause 3.1 as 3.1(a) and insert:
      3.1(b) As a Member of the Liberal Democrats, you must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.”

      As I have said I don’t like the way this is be done and hope that someone can get their local party or enough reps to support amending it to:

      “Re-number existing Clause 3.1 as 3.1(a) and insert:
      3.1(b) As a Member of the Liberal Democrats, you must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public.

      Insert 3.7 (c) and re-number
      Conduct of bullying, harassing or intimidating any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public;”

    • Spencer Hagard 6th Aug '13 - 12:01pm

      @Tim 13
      Having an overall strategy for implementation does not imply trying to do everything in every place at every level at once – quite the opposite.
      @Amalric
      As with any strategy, to be successful it would need to demonstrate that it had taken into account serious concerns that had been raised. Morrissey is advisory, not prescriptive.

      Done well, it would swiftly identify and address the greatest risks; develop and extend the most promising virtuous circles; and formulate and adopt an integrated communications strategy to learn, explain, keep in touch, and manage expectations both within the party and in the world beyond.

      The greatest risks (and potential reputational harm) are mainly where there’s most activity with members, volunteers and staff, so the priorities for attention would need to be LDHQ & national offices, and parliamentarians , assembly members, council leaders and major council groups, plus their offices and local parties.

      Without excluding other ‘early adopters’, and given enough priority, including leadership commitment and sufficient resources, the above would provide a manageable base, on which the Party could practice, learn and build, and develop and widen its virtuous circles, towards an expectation of universal good practice within a reasonable timescale.

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