Opinion: So who are those Rock the Boat people?

Rock the Boat logoEleven months ago the Liberal Democrat world was tipped on its axis when Channel 4 broadcast reports from women making serious allegations of sexual harassment against one of the Party’s most senior, loved and respected figures.  As the sorry tale unfolded it was clear that the party had failed to deal with the complaints they had made and had failed to let anyone involved in the terrible situation get justice. It became clear that we, as an organisation, had a cultural problem and no idea of how to get our house in order.

As one would expect – if you know Lib Dems at all – the grassroots spoke, and James Shaddock set up a Facebook group called “Rock the Boat.” It grew rapidly and now has over 400 Liberal Democrat members.  The idea was that sometimes you have to say or do uncomfortable things to stop sexual harassment – whether that is to speak out about your own experiences, write policy motions, tell your friends if you think they are behaving inappropriately, or even reflect on your own actions and behaviours and perhaps change them after some soul searching and analysis. Sadly, eleven months ago it became quite obvious that when people had spoken up on sexual harassment, they had been told “Don’t Rock the Boat” – hence the name.

Since last February, Rock the Boat has run a hugely successful fringe event at Conference, and the party has received the Morrissey report and started to implement Helena’s findings, including the very welcome appointment of the party’s new Pastoral Care Officer, Jeanne Tarrant.  Progress has been made, and we are proud that as a party we are being brave enough to face up to the problems of the past and present, but we still have more work to do.

Rock the Boat is now run by a collective of 6 volunteers, Chris White, Katherine Bavage, Callum Leslie, Jane Manning, James King and I.  As a group we are swamped by the volume of ideas from our membership regarding how to move this forward.  The Rock the Boat movement is absolutely clear that we want sexual harassment within our party to be unacceptable, and on the rare occasions when it happens it must be dealt with promptly, using systems of restorative justice.

We are also clear that these problems are by no means unique to the Liberal Democrats, and we will not rest until the rest of the Westminster Bubble recognises that we are the political party that has put our house in order and is now ahead of the game.

The party is currently in a difficult situation. We are all uncertain about the future, so precisely where the Rocking Boat will be sailing to next I cannot say for sure.  But what is clear is that our membership spans young and old, male and female, and a wide variety of social and ethnic backgrounds.  We are talking to SAOs in the party such as Liberal Women, Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, Liberal Youth and LGBT+ Liberal Democrats and will continue to seek to work with them in the future.

We are very clear in the belief that sexual harassment is a complex issue and both men and women can be victims or perpetrators, and it affects people of all races, sexualities and genders.

Currently there is significant media coverage about one man. That is not, for Rock the Boat, the main issue.  We believe that as a party we must look to the future and make sure we as are a party become a safer, better educated and more supportive place to be.

If you want to join Rock the Boat or learn more about us please get in touch. You can email us at [email protected] or tweet us @LDRockTheBoat

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • <3 Thanks for this, Grace.

  • Rory Gleeson 22nd Jan '14 - 12:00pm

    Couldn’t put it better myself, looking forward to a future where sexual harassment is a thing of the past both in, and out of the party.

  • Linda Jack – you forgot weight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kcYv2L3cx8

  • Bridget Harris 22nd Jan '14 - 3:03pm

    Thanks for this – I wish the group every success, not least because I think one of the core issues is that by ‘rocking the boat’ our core loyalty to the party / lib dem movement could be called into question. Party and tribal loyalty is one thing – but it becomes toxic if it actually starts to work against the very values and principles we are all fighting for. Put it a different way – the party becomes an end in itself, instead of a structure to organise a group of people who want to fight for political power to change things and represent people.

    I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that both myself and Alison Smith actually left the party / working in politics some time ago to purse careers in other directions. It meant we were able to speak out last year without a (sadly fairly predictable) backlash from colleagues who feel we shouldn’t be exposing the party to these criticisms – as well as potentially affecting our careers within the LDs.

    I hate the fact this has been played out in the media, instead of being dealt with the party under a proper process when Chris was Chief Executive. But hopefully there is room for optimism that the strength of feeling expressed by Lib Dem activists in the Rock the Boat group will ensure it will never happen again.


  • Keep going, RTB. Sadly, your work here is far from done yet.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jan '14 - 3:59pm

    At first, the Rock the Boat message made me feel defensive, but then Bridget’s message made me understand what it is about and agree with its aims. People should never feel afraid to step forward because of party loyalty and fear of “rocking the boat”. I think this message about misplaced loyalty and not being made to feel uncomfortable about coming forward is what needs to get across.

    I have also agreed that it is best to discuss these things out in the open – there have been many voices saying “why are we discussing this in public, it’s a gift to Labour and the Tories”, but I think an open and honest discussion where possible is best, even if it does “rock the boat”.


  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jan '14 - 4:36pm

    I understand if people have been worried about how the handling of this has affected the party, I just mean no one should be afraid of coming forward due to party loyalty. I think that is the message that needs to get across.

  • James Spackman – spot on. Wherever humans gather there is scope for misinterpretation of action and intention.

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Jan '14 - 9:39am

    Being an MP is just a another job. If you worked in industry and misbehaved, someone would be on your case, unless, there is cover ups.

    As I canvass for my new Party, I can see the damage being done, how can we convince others to vote ,if there are these types of stories being hid from the public?

    I would like to see more honesty and transparency. I think the time has come to realize, that this type of behavior is destroying trust, and the genuine good that some MP’s do for their constituents.

    I have contact with MP’s from other parties, and I feel saddened that this type of behavior is making their lives difficult.

  • I don’t really get this – you understand that “rock the boat” is a euphemism for having sex, right? Shouldn’t it be called “Don’t Rock The Boat”? Only 16 million people have seen the Aaliyah video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5AAcgtMjUI – so compared to members of your organisation, hardly anyone. I especially love the lyric “In A Jury You’ll Get My Vote”; looking forward to more Lib Dems self-identifying as boat rockers – it’ll make catching them a lot easier!!

  • sometimes you have to say or do uncomfortable things – whether that is to speak out about your own experiences, write policy motions, tell your friends if you think they are behaving inappropriately, or even reflect on your own actions and behaviours and perhaps change them after some soul searching and analysis.

    I hope there is not a sense of triumphalism in the air. Given what has happened in the last few days have any of the 400 Facebook friends of this campaign reflected on their own actions and perhaps changed them. Soul searching and analysis can be applied to all sorts of actions. I hope I have chosen my words carefully enough so as not to have another comment disappeared.

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