Opinion: Time to step back from the brink

Recent events have shown us that. Like many other similar organisations including other political parties and trades unions and some charities we are good at telling others what should be done and then falling short ourselves.  Partly this is due to the fact that money and resource available to tends to go straight to campaigns and partly because when you count a large number of volunteers as part of the party, it is harder to have a clear structure.  Whatever.  We haven’t covered ourselves in glory despite the high quality of many of the individuals concerned.  Employment law didn’t do it for us and to be fair, there has been a hugely unequal situation with Lord Rennard having access to his (learned) friend Lord Carlile QC while the women complainants, many of whom have put in years of paid or unpaid time for the party have no access to a similar representative.  Let’s be clear, while the party has taken steps to improve whistle blowing processes and has appointed a pastoral care officer to really follow up on new complaints, right now we are in a situation where, with threatened law suits and no apology in sight, the party could tear itself apart with the help of course of the Mail and the Telegraph.

What would a forward looking commercial organisation do? Listen to both sides and look for a form of mediation. An apology for the distress caused, whether intentional or unintentional has been suggested for good reason.  It would show that Lord Rennard accepts that certainly he has caused distress to a number of people.  Indeed his Facebook comments, since taken down, suggest that had he had the advice of a critical friend available he might have been able to find a way forward when the complaints were first made.

A forward looking organisation would certainly back off from legal action knowing that a day in court does nothing for anyone’s reputation.  And for Lord Rennard and Lord Carlile what satisfaction could there be in knowing that you are back in the Lords only because you had access to a good lawyer but with a party bankrupted by the action and split permanently.

A forward looking organisation would be seeking to talk to the women concerned to find out what they really want if, as Alistair Webster has pointed out, the balance of evidence is insufficient to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

A forward looking organisation would be requesting that Lord Rennard allows a little time before attempting to take his place on the Lib Dem benches once more in order to take further steps. It would certainly be ironic if because of threats of legal action he had the whip restored in unelected chamber.

There are many impartial organisations who offer mediation within organisations.  We must try to get acceptance and reconciliation to take precedence over a blunt and wounding legal threat.  While we can’t take away what happened, we could do so much more to come to terms with it and help all parties to move forward.

* Sue Doughty chairs the FE Working Group on Democratic Reform. She was formerly the MP for Guildford

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24 Comments

  • A Social Liberal 19th Jan '14 - 7:13pm

    This was posted elsewhere – I found it very telling.

    https://www.facebook.com/amykitcher/posts/10152334556557018

  • Very well said, Sue

  • paul barker 19th Jan '14 - 7:30pm

    I spent 2 years on The Green Party Mediation Commitee. The idea was that we would provide an alternative to long & bitter disputes wasting everyones time & energy & often driving people out of the Party altogether. It was a good idea but what often happened was that cases were only referred to us when it was already too late.
    I am sorry to say that I think its already too late with the Rennard affair, the threat to sue The Party making any compromise almost impossible.
    On the slightly brighter side I dont see any real risk of a split in the main body of the Party. If we ended up with 2 lots of Peers both claiming to be The Real Libdems that would be embarrasing but not hugely important. Most of what happens in The HoL goes completely unnoticed by the vast majority of Voters & Rennard isnt a David Owen or a Tony Benn.

  • Sadie Smith 19th Jan '14 - 8:00pm

    Lot in what you say, Sue..
    I do think we need, as well as trying to avoid a legal disaster, is look at the role of candidate. One is not an employee. And the powere relationships are odd, it is more a question of influence.. And for all the media hype about the power of a Chief Exec., it has always looked limited to me. So while we can learn from more structured organisations, the parallel is inexact. But we have done stuff, to noone’s satisfaction.
    Heads on platters is less good than finding ways of working together.

  • Bill Chapman 19th Jan '14 - 8:19pm

    This sorry saga looks set to run and run, giving Liberal Democrats a lot of media coverage, but not of the desirable kind. I am struck by he contrast between this on-going affair and the resolution with which Nigel Farage addressed the problem of an apparent ‘loony’ in UKIP’s ranks. I’m not advocating UKIP in any way, but they don’t let a problem fester.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Jan '14 - 8:27pm

    I agree with the underlying basis of Sue’s posting. Unfortunately it takes two to tango and the complainants and their supporters show no signs at all of backing off their fundamental objective which is the expulsion of Chris Rennard, not just from the Lords party but from the party itself. There is enough evidence of this in various parts of the internet.

    Or read Bridget Harris’s article in the Observer today to see just how extreme they have become. (And do not imagine that she is not employing lawyers in this matter).

    But there has to be closure and it has to come soon. This will require a willingness on all sides.

    Tony

  • David Allen 19th Jan '14 - 8:40pm

    The question should surely be: Guilty of what?

    Causing offence and distress – clearly yes.

    Misusing a position of power and authority – yes

    Sexual misconduct – not guilty. Insufficient evidence. Making persistent unwelcome advances, but eventually taking no for an answer, is not sexual misconduct. It is however offensive, and in the case of an authority figure, a misuse of power.

    Is that the mediation result to be sought?

  • Philip Rolle 19th Jan '14 - 9:17pm

    Give it up and move on. Life isn’t always fair and we don’t always get the results we want or expect.

  • Unfortunately the situation has gone beyond mediation. It may have been possible to bring in a mediator whilst the matter was private. Now that there have been statements by senior members of the party, and much press speculation, including it has to be said, comments on this website, there can realistically only be one remaining avenue: the courts, unfortunately.

    Lord Rennard cannot now apologise, because he would thereby jeapordise himself if there is to be a court hearing. Nick Clegg should have avoided getting dragged into it. Unfortunately neither Nick nor Lord Rennard come out of this very well.

    The best we can hope for is that if it does go to court, then the hearing is done swiftly. Unfortunately sods law says it may coincide with the Euro election, with disastrous consequences for our results.

  • A forward looking commercial organisation would follow the ACAS guide “Discipline and grievances at work”

    http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2179

    It would ensure that a transparent and fair process would be followed, it would have investigated to identify whether there was a case to answer, then it would hold a fair hearing. It would need to be a hearing where the employee accused of a transgression would be able to question the evidence and most likely the people providing the evidence. Only following such a hearing would it act.

    Mediation would have been attempted at an earlier stage and certainly before those in positions of authority had prejudiced the outcome of either it, or any formal action by requiring one party or other to admit culpability. Mediation only works without pre-judging. By calling for an apology and mediation you would be seen to be doing so.

    An organisation that did not follow this guidance would be potentially subject to an increased penalty (up to 25%) at any ensuing tribunal.

    My opinion remains that if the allegations are true, and are shown to be so having being open to robust challenge in a fair hearing then there should be significant sanction. At the moment it appears they are accepted as credible, in industry that would have been enough to trigger a hearing but not to instigate action as the investigation and the disciplinary hearing would be separate.

  • It is all very demoralising: too many seem to be too keen on grandstanding and are cavalier about what the Party stands for or represents. This criticism is not confined to one side, further revelations this evening make this abundantly clear.

    It is as though there are some who are willing electoral disaster, leaving those who care about representative democracy, Liberal values and international cooperation through the EU with nowhere to turn.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Jan '14 - 11:14pm

    As an outsider with the humility of knowing next to nothing, I applaud this message :).

  • What Steve Way said – that would be the proper process, not this half-secret, half-public, sort-of-hearing-but-not-quite. Although it’s important to remember that most (I think all but one?) of the complainants didn’t want that kind of formal, public hearing to begin with, rather they were hoping it could be dealt with quietly and privately. It seems many of them still want privacy which is why the report is confidential.

    Sadly both sides are too entrenched now for mediation I think. Several of the complainants have made it clear they won’t accept the kind of apology Webster is recommending – they don’t want to hear “I’m sorry if I inadvertently caused offence” and Rennard can no longer afford to offer even that much of an apology because now it would be taken as an admission of guilt to the charge of sexual harassment, which is no small thing and I can understand why he would find that unpalatable if he believes himself innocent of it.

  • I don’t see any stepping back from either side if this proves to be true…

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/19/lord-rennard-allies-allege-political-conspiracy

  • Michael Main 20th Jan '14 - 8:08am

    Well said, Sue. One of the things that puzzles me is that in this case and the others that are appearing in court, so many of the allegations refer to events that took place years, if not, decades ago. Why on earth were complaints made at the time? Nothing to do with the compensation culture is it ?

  • Look, while we are obsessing on this matter, see what the Tories are up to:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2542352/Exclusive-Ministers-new-crackdown-Housing-benefit-ban-jobless-migrants.html

    I do think it was a huge mistake getting in to bed with the Tories, we are more naturally inclined to Labour in my opinion.

  • Sue Doughty has written a sensible piece here which is in stark contrast to the macho statements from Clegg and co.

    The final para of Alistair Webster QC in another thread makes the point —
    “8. Whilst there may well be scope for a legitimate debate about the standard of proof required in these cases, neither Nick Clegg or anyone else can be expected to ignore the rules and avoid due process. That is the very antithesis of all that Liberal Democrats stand for.”

    But when you have people working to a media strategy revealed in The Guardian, it is hard to believe that Nick Clegg and his team are sticking to the rules.

    Steve Way 20th Jan ’14 – 12:35am
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/19/lord-rennard-allies-allege-political-conspiracy

  • peter tyzack 20th Jan '14 - 10:20am

    I think Sue should be asked to get all the protagonists around the table, along with Tim Farron, and stay there til they have found a resolution. Any other route will ensure that the media (add BBC to Mail and Telegraph, Sue) continue to delight in tearing us apart (and doubtless now they have given air time to Chris Davies and Lembit they will have others lined up to draw it out even further).

  • David Allen 20th Jan '14 - 1:37pm

    Conspiracy, Infamy, they’ve all got it Infamy!

    Four women making similar complaints, and one of them dares to tell the others how it’s going. Shock horror, how evilly conspiratorial can people get?

  • Bill Chapman 20th Jan '14 - 1:42pm

    Although some people want to see the matter hushed up, I can see that with appeals and resignations, this matter will limp on until the General Election.

  • @ peter tyzack – now there is a good idea (minus Tim Farron who has hardly been moderate in his comments)

  • I agree with Catherine if any attempt is to be made along these lines then Tim Farron cannot be involved

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