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Sal Brinton writes…How the party is addressing members’ concerns over harassment complaints

The Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats has met to discuss the concerns expressed by members of the party over the last few days. We considered what action should be taken to address these concerns, and also to let members know about changes that are in progress already.

I want to start by thanking everybody who has spoken up about harassment and sexual assault over the last few days. I know, from personal experience in the media when I was younger, that it is insidious, pervasive and demeaning and the effects never really leave you. Vince Cable and I remain very clear that there is no place for harassment and sexual assault inside the Liberal Democrats and we must have a zero tolerance approach to it.

That is why the serious allegations made by some members relating to rape and assaults in a case that is currently under investigation are very serious. Because the case is under way at the moment, the party cannot comment. However, we can look at some of the concerns raised by the complainants about where the process may have failed. That is urgent, and the Board recognises this.

Early in 2017 the Federal Board asked Lord Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to carry out a review of our current disciplinary processes for two reasons. Firstly, following the Morrissey Review the party constantly reviews its processes, but the Board was also  concerned to hear that some cases appeared to take too long, and that some processes were inconsistent. Ken was asked to think radically about a new process that would be seen as independent, fair, faster and accountable. The snap General Election halted the evidence he was taking, but the report is now nearing conclusion and will be presented to the Board in December, published to the party in January and then changes presented formally to Spring Conference.

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Brexit will unravel

So, the children snatched the keys of the family car. They haven’t a clue how to drive it. They’ve locked the doors. You can’t make them listen. You watch helplessly. It shudders forward as they fight amongst themselves. They won’t unlock or take notice until they’ve driven it into the sea. They’re convinced it’s amphibious!

What can you do? How can we stop them driving over the cliff?

…The story of Brexit so far.

But I don’t believe the car will topple off the cliff. It’ll either run out of fuel, conk out, hit a tree or run into a ditch. The occupants may be badly injured. But letting the consequences of their naïve bluster come face to face with harsh and unforgiving reality would be far worse.

Brexit will unravel. Most but not all of the ingredients are there.

The Government will never put a figure on UK liabilities; fearing the consequences of a backlash from their own supports if the figure isn’t a big fat zero! There’s no plausible solution to the Irish border conundrum. Neither ‘soft’ nor ‘transitional’ arrangements are possible so long as the shrill voices of Tory Europhobes dominate the airwaves.

In truth, negotiations have already all but broken down. Theresa May’s European counterparts may feel genuine sympathy for the impossible position in which she now finds herself. But this’ll count for nothing during merciless deal settling.

However, many ‘Remainers’ have become ‘futile resigners’; in that they are resigned to leave and believe it’s futile to hold out hope of stopping it.

In spite of the daily diet which exposes the Brexit negotiators’ buffoonery, humiliation and chaotic ineptitude most have given up or are convinced it would be improper to deny brexiteers their entitlement… even if it’s an entitlement to undermine Britain’s economic prospects, it’s standing in the world, and to become more isolationist and inward-looking. A crucial factor favouring brexit is the persistence of public opinion which still appears to be on side.

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Sal Brinton writes…We must have a politics in which everyone feels able to be involved free from abuse or harassment

Over the last ten days the country has been rocked by the revelations of sexual harassment at Westminster.  Let me be clear that the Liberal Democrats believe harassment and abuse of power are unacceptable in any situation, and especially at Westminster.  Whether the allegations are about groping, inappropriate remarks or texts through to possible criminal offences of sexual assault and rape, any complaint needs to be listened to, taken seriously and investigated. Since these incidents are often about abuses of power, it is crucial people have an independent, confidential route to report incidents when they happen.

This week the Chief Whips in the Commons and the Lords have met with staff twice to hear their views and to ensure everyone is aware of how to make a complaint, and assured they will be taken seriously.  We are also reviewing our procedures in Parliament with a view to broadening the involvement in investigations to include some of those most likely to have a lived experience of this type of behaviour. There have also been meetings with both groups of MPs and peers to review their responsibilities to staff and volunteers.

Vince Cable will be meeting with the other party leaders on Monday to discuss how Parliament and the political parties can work better together to rid Parliament of the scourge of harassment.

In doing so, he will draw on the lessons our own party has learned.  In 2013 the Liberal Democrats commissioned Helena Morrissey to conduct a Review which changed fundamentally the party’s process and attitude towards sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power. The Federal Executive (now the Federal Board) accepted all her recommendations, and also asked Helena Morrissey to review progress against her recommendations, which the FE also reviewed at the end of 2014.

We re-wrote our Code of Conduct for members  and made it clear what the rights and responsibilities are of members.  There’s a page that has links to specific responsibilities for people with different roles here. We encourage people to report incidents – without a complaint it is very hard to investigate – and put in place arrangements to ensure that complainants feel supported.  Some people have been expelled from the party since strengthening our rules.

We have a professional Pastoral Care Officer, Jeanne Tarrant, who is not a party member.  She is trained to handle complaints fairly and independently, whether they come from inside or outside the party. Complaints come to her via the website  or by emailing her at [email protected].  She will contact the complainant to get more information if necessary and guide them through the process. Where she believes that a crime has been committed, she will also encourage the complainant to go to the police.

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Tom Brake MP writes…If you care about Brexit, read this…

Some of you might have received an email from me on Thursday night about the EU Withdrawal Bill. If you didn’t, then please continue reading.

When people voted in the EU referendum last year, nobody really knew what a future deal with the European Union might look like.

16 months on it is now clearer than ever that no deal will be anywhere near as good a deal as the one we have now. To top that off, a catastrophic “no deal” scenario is becoming likelier than ever.

The chaos and uncertainty are leading to job losses and higher prices across the UK.

That is why the Liberal Democrats believe the people deserve the final say on any Brexit deal in a referendum. And if the public doesn’t like it, we should have the option to remain in the European Union.

In two weeks’ time, MPs will be debating amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. The Government’s majority is wafer thin – and if MPs from all parties work together, there’s a real chance we can defeat them and at the very least, stop them from pursuing a hard Brexit.

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Jane Dodds is the new leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Congratulations to Jane Dodds on her election today as Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. She won 53.15 of the vote over Ceredigion’s Liz Evans.

Jane tweeted:

Jane told the County Times:

It is an honour to have been elected as the next leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats – to focus my energy on bringing like minded people together to rebuild our party and to re-establish the Welsh Liberal Democrats as the radical, progressive force of Welsh politics.

“I’d like to thank Liz Evans for running an excellent campaign and giving members a vital opportunity to discuss our next steps as a party.

I”’d also like to pay tribute to Mark Williams and Kirsty Williams for their unwavering commitment to our party.

“Wales needs the Welsh Liberal Democrats now more than ever.

Wales needs the progressive, pragmatic, and reforming voice of Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Assembly and in Westminster to give us an exit from Brexit, a fresh look on creating more and better paid jobs, protecting our environment, and delivering on Kirsty Williams’ education reforms.

“We have been down, but we aren’t out, and I’m confident of what lies ahead for my party.”

Good wishes have been coming in:

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Christine Jardine MP writes…We are simply the temporary guardians of their future

‘No taxation without representation’ was the call to arms which shook Westminster to its very core, and drove the American Revolution.

And yet nearly 250 years later here we are again. In this country today 16 and 17 year olds can pay tax and national insurance, and yet they have no say, no representation in how that money they contribute to the public purse is spent.

They can also get married and join the armed forces, but they cannot vote and have no say in our society’s decisions on their future. Yet, nobody has provided a reasonable explanation as to why. There have been plenty of excuses but no explanations.

It frustrates me because I have witnessed first-hand what a difference it makes to our politics, and what a contrast there is when sixteen and seventeen year olds join the debate.

On the eve of the European elections in May 2014, I spent the evening with a group of my daughter’s friends.

It was her 16th birthday. They knew I was involved in both the European elections and the forthcoming Scottish Independence Referendum campaign and wanted to chat.

The conversations I had that night were some of the most enlightened, challenging and informed of the entire European or Independence referendum campaigns.

At one point, I noticed that even though there was a constant stream of questions a few of the people were also all on their phones.

I was on the brink of being disappointed, when I discovered that they were actually texting other friends who were sending back their own questions to ask.

Imagine that? Young people so desperately keen to understand and be involved in the democratic process.

All of them engaged, all of them informed, all of them keen to make a positive difference and yet none of them entitled to vote the next day.

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Jo Swinson MP writes…We must end period poverty

Talking about periods apparently is still taboo. In fact we have had to wait until this month, in 2017 for the first ad ever in the UK to show a hand pouring a test-tube of blood-coloured liquid onto a sanitary towel, in lieu of the standard sterile-blue.

The advert, which forms part of a new campaign called ‘Blood Normal’, attempts to get rid of the embarrassment around the ‘Aunt Flo’ after a recent survey found that nine out of ten women attempt to hide the fact they are on their period, and 56% of girls said they would rather be bullied at school than talk to their parents about periods.

For something half the population experience on a monthly basis that is ludicrous.

For the majority of us they are an inconvenience, for example feeling we have to take our entire handbag with us to the bathroom at work, the surest tell-tale sign. But for others, particularly girls who have just started menstruating, the embarrassment can be enormous resulting in lost days of schooling and a huge knock to their self-esteem. This is particularly the case for girls from low-income families who might see their parents struggling to make ends meet and feel reluctant to ask them to add sanitary products to the weekly shop.

A survey by Plan International UK found that 1 in 10 girls had been unable to afford sanitary products. The fact that no one talks about this means that it remains hidden. In a country as well-off as Britain this simply shouldn’t be happening. And it can be stopped. We can end period poverty. The truth is it, it wouldn’t even cost a lot, relatively speaking.

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    Arnold, that was a magnificent piece of prose writing, so well articulated, so reasonable, and yet so passionate and sad at the same time. It...
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    @ JoeB, I normally agree with Stiglitz but not this time. A two tier, or a multi tier, euro wouldn't really solve anything. In every...
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    And that is why people voted for Kennedy in 2005, Clegg in 2010 and now Corbyn.
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    The cut price less sonorously Machiavellian British Kissinger, but only because he as a squeaky voice.
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