Tim Farron: I want the Liberal Democrats to become the “gold standard” for the way voluntary organisations treat volunteers and staff

Since the allegations against Lord Rennard were first aired on Channel Four News, I’ve worked hard with members, activists, HQ staff and our parliamentary parties to fundamentally change the way our party treats these matters.

We asked Helena Morrissey to look at our party’s culture and practices and her report helped us to recognise our failings and set about correcting them.

We have changed our rules and codes of conduct at every level, from grassroots members to parliamentarians so that everyone involved in the party is aware of their rights and responsibilities. We have changed how complaints are reported and addressed, and we have appointed a Pastoral Care Officer to help and advise those making a complaint.

Helena Morrissey will be back later this year to look at how we are putting her recommendations into practice, so that we continue to hold ourselves to a high standard.

As well as this, we asked a senior barrister, Diya Sen Gupta from Blackstone Chambers, to review our disciplinary procedures and recommend any changes required. She has now made recommendations to us and I am determined that we will implement these as quickly as possible.

No one should ever have to feel that their concerns are being dismissed or ignored and I am clear that the Liberal Democrats should become the ‘gold standard’ for how voluntary organisations treat their members and staff. Today’s news hasn’t changed that one bit.

Finally, if any of you ever need advice or support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Jeanne Tarrant, our Pastoral Care Officer. Her email address is: [email protected]

Editorial note: All commets on this post will be pre-moderated.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Joshua Dixon 19th Aug '14 - 10:44pm

    A record of misery, a promise of more.

    Same old, same old.

  • We abandoned the gold standard in the 1930s, I fear….

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '14 - 11:38pm

    The new review by the senior female barrister sounds promising. There is no need to feel despair – disappointment maybe, but not despair.

    Thanks for getting this published quickly, Tim and others.

  • Jerry Lonsdale 19th Aug '14 - 11:54pm

    I would suggest that you rapidly implement the “New” voluntary changes to the organisations that your MP’s run that are separate to parliament matters, specifically those organisations where they have to use volunteers to succeed, although my issue is not on the same scale as that which resulted in these significant changes it was however very serious indeed, having had to seek help from other Lib Dem MP’s the problem still persists, your MP’s should still filter through your changes on to these organisations run by your MP’s, unless this happens, Interns and Volunteers will still be regarded as simple commodities and not people, people whom could be treat by any way adversarial to what we would expect from any other reputable organisation, don;t do things by halves, to have a Gold Standard it must be across the board and not just those on your door step.

  • “No one should ever have to feel that their concerns are being dismissed or ignored ”

    Good to hear Tim. There is an email sitting in yours and Tim Gordon’s about the lack of action taken against a Lib Dem Councillor who posted racist comments on the internet where just that happened to me!

  • Ruth Bright 20th Aug '14 - 6:44am

    Have our female MPs taken a vow of silence on this?

  • Helen Dudden 20th Aug '14 - 8:56am

    The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

  • Can I (as a professional HR / Personnel practitioner) suggest that our approach as a party to these sorts of issues has almost invariably to reach for lawyers? Can I further suggest that my profession is generally more cognisant of all the issues surrounding the employment of people and volunteers than the law? And can I support Hywel in what he has to say (I do not know his case, but, as I have tried to say before here, and been censored, there have been, and still are, plenty of cases of abuse of power around). Political parties, including ours, have as their main goal the election of people to councils and other elective bodies. Anything that disrupts that process, including bad behaviour by elected people and candidates, TENDS to be denied, hidden or ignored. I do not say this is always the reaction. We have to find ways around these defensive reactions. I am sure that Jeanne Tarrant is doing her best with any situations she has found or been presented with (I am not aware of any so have no conflict of interest in posting here). I think Tim Farron, in his article here, is merely restating actions already taken, and these do not really address the underlying conflict between democracy as practised in Britain and ensuring those involved in politics behave well at all times. I have been many years in politics at local, regional and national levels, and now as a locally elected councillor, along with 40 years in training and personnel work, and it hurts me greatly that two of the things I know most about and care passionately about cannot seem to find a working accommodation.

    I sympathise with the type of situation Jerry Lonsdale has found him / herself in, also.

    I have mentioned previously how difficult the formal lines of accountability are in a political party. People often “wear several hats”, some voluntary, some elected, and some paid. This complicates processes! We have to find ways of handling these complexities – it is absolutely pointless and counter productive, by the way, to try to produce a simpler system where people wear fewer hats. That could destroy this party, which relies on the hard work of ever fewer activists in these days.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Aug '14 - 10:06am

    I tried to complain before I left the Party, I even rang Nick Cleggs office. I gave up. Totally ignored.

    If you print this or not, you have read it.

  • Chris Leaman 20th Aug '14 - 11:53am

    ‘Gold’ standard is a laudable aim but should we not just seek to ‘medal’ first. That would be an achievement from where we are.

  • Hywel

    The person in question has resigned from the party. He will not be a councillor after May 2015 or at least not a Lib Dem one.

  • I will believe that we have set a gold standard when a certain predatory individual I know of – a parliamentary candidate even – who the old Liberal Party determined should never stand for office again – is delisted as a parliamentary and council candidate. And yes, I have reported it more than once.

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Aug '14 - 12:42pm

    I think that what has happened up until now has been shambolic. But taking action to make sure it does not happen again in the future is surely the right thing to do? New rules cannot be applied retrospectively but from now on the will have the best setup of any political party that will protect people from harassment. I think that has to be the right thing to do, and the “gold standard” is a justifiable metaphor for it.

  • Geoffrey Payne
    Setting up a “gold standard” will require time, investment, thought and planning. It will not happen overnight, and it will need discussion involving most of us. Unless and until someone starts taking real action, I am afraid I am inclined to believe this is mainly PR driven.

  • New rules cannot be applied retrospectively

    Why not?

    It may be the only way to rid the party of disreputable people without waiting for them to retire and prolonging the agony for another generation or electoral oblivion, whichever comes first.

  • Like most things in life, talk is cheap and action talks louder.

    So far that’s all the LibDems seem to do – for years.

    If there is going to be a “next time” – and there will be – ANY suggestion of delay or inaction in investigating will be fatal.
    As it is, no-one can believe a word you say on the subject. And until you show you mean what you say, that is a sensible attitude.

  • Can we have a link to these new rules, and an explanation of how they differ from the old ones?

    I, for one, think the allegations of this nature should be decided on the balance of probabilities. (AIUI, this is the standard for employees, and also for defamation actions by people who are sanctioned.)

    But I have not been able to find any link to the old rules which effectively say, according to much of the discussion I have seen around this issue, that ‘no member can be sanctioned in any way without proof of wrongdoing beyond reasonable doubt’ (do they really say this?!).

    We also need to widely publicise the new rules to enable members to check that this has been changed.

  • David Evershed 20th Aug '14 - 6:21pm

    New rules should not be applied retrospectively.

    To do so would mean making existing rules meaningless because they may be retrospectively replaced by unknowable future rules.

  • Tony Dawson 20th Aug '14 - 7:31pm


    “Anything that disrupts that process, including bad behaviour by elected people and candidates, TENDS to be denied, hidden or ignored.”

    Totally true. A particular problem in the NHS where I have had to deal with several complaints of serious malpractice………..by HR ‘professionals’. 🙁 And then complaints about the failure of the Chief Execs to deal with the complaints about the HR professionals. And then the complaint about the Trust Chair who neglected to deal with the complaint about the Chief Exec’s failure. . . . . . . . 🙁 🙁

  • Tony Dawson Ironic amusement from me about the HR professionals – my son, who is in FE, has nothing but bad words for the various HR professionals he has come across in that field! “I know you’re not like that, Dad…!”

  • Tony Greaves 20th Aug '14 - 9:34pm

    Most of this pretends that we are just a “voluntary organisation”. We are not, we are a political party and little progress will be made until that difference is recognised.


  • Helen Dudden 20th Aug '14 - 9:54pm

    So, that means those like me never have an answer to why?

  • Tony Greaves
    I agree with your comment here. I hope my post at 8.58 took that on board. I am well aware of the differences between a party and a more standard “voluntary organisation”, which usually has a simpler structure, and whose aims are often more “linear” in nature. I think the public are totally fed up with the traditional model of political parties, and they wish we were more up front with problems, policy dilemmas etc. I have used the term “timid” many times in my commentary on our recent actions. Parties will have to “go through the fire” in moving from our present model of parties to a new more open and honest model. British political parties now have a much more difficult task to do this. This is entirely the fault of our party – we have no-one else to blame, in that shifting ourselves from what was termed “the new politics” to another version of the old, we have turned the clock back. I am not sure whether the clock I refer to is Britain’s alarm clock….

  • Geoffrey Payne,

    “Taking action to make sure it does not happen again in the future … has to be the right thing to do, and the “gold standard” is a justifiable metaphor for it.”

    I disagree with the final clause, because it reveals one of this Party’s besetting weaknesses – an inability to stop the empty boasting, even when (as in this case) we surely have nothing at all to boast about.

    Instead of meaningless loud boasts to cover up our own weaknesses, couldn’t we just aim for basic competence?

    That’s to say, let’s not claim we are the champion organisation in the country when it comes to prevention of bullying and harassment. Let’s just try to do far better than we did in the past, and seek to get it mostly right, most of the time. Like ordinary, sensible, organisations do – with no bombast about supposed successes, and no more dreadful problems with actual failures, please!

  • Bill Chapman 21st Aug '14 - 12:56am

    Reaching a bronze standard seems over-ambitious. In the meantime, what about a coimmission to look at how the Rennard affair has been handled?

  • I agree with David Evershed about unknowable future rules, but frankly, it seems difficult enough to find out what the current ones are! See my post above!

  • David Evershed

    New rules should not be applied retrospectively.

    To do so would mean making existing rules meaningless because they may be retrospectively replaced by unknowable future rules.

    Say for example your rules did not punish harassment, and lots of people were harassed as a result, do you really think that changing the rules to punish future harassment but not deal with past harassment is going to work? You expect people to ignore past behaviour on the basis that although it was bad, and everybody agrees it was bad, the rules did not permit anything to be done?

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