Rennard’s suspension lifted today – but the Lib Dems lost control of this situation years ago

by Stephen Tall on August 19, 2014

Tonight’s news that Lib Dem peer and former chief executive Chris Rennard has had his membership un-suspended is unsurprising.

The plain fact is the grounds on which the party had withdrawn his membership – that by declining to apologise to a number of women who have made allegations against him of sexual impropriety when requested brought the party into disrepute – simply wasn’t tenable. (Former Lib Dem MP and lawyer David Howarth explained why here.)

His un-suspension solves nothing, though. The inquiry into Lord Rennard’s conduct by Alistair Webster QC found “the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible”. But it failed to pass the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ threshold the party (ludicrously) sets for investigations under its own rules. As a result, there was no possible due process under which Lord Rennard’s party membership could be revoked.

In reality the party lost control of the Rennard situation many years ago – the moment it decided not to act on the allegations when he was chief executive. As I wrote here in January:

Most of the complaints that have been made public were first raised privately while Lord Rennard was an employee of the Lib Dems. The key failing of the party’s processes is not, in fact, what is happening now: it is what didn’t happen then. Too many people at the top of the party simply wanted a difficult problem to go away, and some at least of the women who made the complaints were understandably very reluctant to push their complaints in order to spare the party embarrassment. As a result, the outcome was fudged. Lord Rennard resigned as the party’s chief executive in 2009 on grounds of ill health without the allegations being resolved. From that point on, the only disciplinary action he could face was as a member (beyond reasonable doubt proof required) not as an employee (balance of probabilities suffices). And, of course, the more time that lapses, the harder it gets to substantiate allegations to that higher threshold. 

Today was the inevitable and uncomfortable conclusion of the party’s failure to act properly at the time.

My recommended reading for today August 17, 2014

by Stephen Tall on August 17, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention in the past couple of days…

In the next month 39 seats will short-list their wannabe Lib Dem MPs

by Stephen Tall on August 16, 2014

Lib Dems winning hereHere’s the full list of selection contests in the coming month available for Lib Dems on the approved parliamentary candidates’ list, together with the closing date for applications. They include Watford, on paper the 6th most winnable Tory seat for the Lib Dems, needing a swing of just 1.39%, as well as Redcar, where incumbent MP Ian Swales, whose majority over Labour is 5,214, is stepping down. And if anyone fancies taking on health secretary Jeremy Hunt, his South West Surrey seat is also up for grabs.

The following seats have selections in progress and are currently advertising for candidates:

    Hackney North and Stoke Newington, 16th August
    Hackney South and Shoreditch, 16th August
    Batley and Spen, 18th August
    Watford, 19th August
    Skipton and Ripon, 20th August
    Ludlow, 22nd August
    Meon Valley, 22nd August
    Stretford and Urmston, 22nd August
    Weston-super-Mare, 22nd August
    Stroud, 27th August
    Edmonton, 29th August
    Enfield North, 29th August
    Enfield Southgate, 29th August
    Garston and Halewood, 29th August
    Liverpool Riverside, 29th August
    Liverpool Walton, 29th August
    Liverpool Wavertree, 29th August
    Liverpool West Derby, 29th August
    Manchester Central, 29th August
    Redcar, 29th August
    Workington, 29th August
    Stockton North, 3rd September
    Stockton South, 3rd September
    Clacton, 6th September
    Harwich & North Essex, 6th September
    South West Surrey, 9th September
    Aberdeen South, 25th August
    Banff & Buchan, 12th September
    Moray, 12th September
    Na h-Eileanan an Iar, 12th September
    Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, 12th September
    Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, 12th September
    Falkirk, 12th September
    Airdrie and Shotts, 12th September
    Motherwell and Wishaw, 12th September
    Lanark and Hamilton East, 12th September
    Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, 12th September
    Linlithgow and East Falkirk, 12th September
    Livingston, 12th September

In addition, applications for Scottish Parliament Regional List Selections are also invited:

    West of Scotland, 21st September
    Glasgow, 21st September
    Central Scotland, 21st September
    South of Scotland, 21st September
    Lothians, 21st September
    Mid Scotland & Fife, 21st September
    North East, 21st September
    Highlands & Islands, 21st September

Further information, including Returning Officer contact details, can be found on the Lib Dem members’ website: http://www.libdems.org.uk/forms/user_sessions/new and then once you have logged in by following the links: Our Party > Selection Adverts – Latest News. Note you will need to register online and login in order to access the advert webpage.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Quote of the Week: Lauren Bacall – “I’m total, total, total liberal and proud of it.”

by Stephen Tall on August 16, 2014

Lauren BacallHere’s Lauren Bacall, who died this week, aged 89, being interviewed by Larry King in 2005:

KING: “Wait a minute. Are you a liberal?”
BACALL: “I’m a liberal. The “L” word!”
KING: “Egads!”
BACALL: … I love it. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind… I’m total, total, total liberal and proud of it. And I think it’s outrageous to say “The L word”. I mean, excuse me. They should be damn lucky that they were liberals here. Liberals gave more to the population of the United States than any other group.

(Hat-tip: Vote Clegg, Get Clegg Facebook group.)

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

photo by:


Quote of the Week: Lauren Bacall – “I’m total, total, total liberal and proud of it.”

by Stephen Tall on August 16, 2014

Lauren BacallHere’s Lauren Bacall, who died this week, aged 89, being interviewed by Larry King in 2005:

KING: “Wait a minute. Are you a liberal?”
BACALL: “I’m a liberal. The “L” word!”
KING: “Egads!”
BACALL: … I love it. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind… I’m total, total, total liberal and proud of it. And I think it’s outrageous to say “The L word”. I mean, excuse me. They should be damn lucky that they were liberals here. Liberals gave more to the population of the United States than any other group.

(Hat-tip: Vote Clegg, Get Clegg Facebook group.)

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

photo by:


Jo Swinson launches “Scotland should stay!” petition

by Stephen Tall on August 16, 2014

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TJo Swinson, Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire, is inviting those who “think Scotland should be [sic] stay part of the United Kingdom” to sign a petition saying so ahead of the independence referendum on 18th September. Here’s the text of the email circulated to party members last night:

In just over a month my fellow Scots and I will cast the most important vote of our lives.

I’m hoping there’s a resounding vote for Scotland to stay as part of the United Kingdom.

Our shared values, our history and our economic success show that Scotland is best placed as part of the United Kingdom.

This referendum is crucially important for Scotland, but it doesn’t just affect Scots: it’ll affect everyone across the UK.

Do you want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom? Add your name now.

People living south of the border may not have a vote, but they can have a voice and encourage Scotland to stay.

It only takes a minute to show your support:

http://www.libdems.org.uk/why_stay_petition

Best wishes – and thank you,

Jo

Jo Swinson MP
East Dunbartonshire

It’s a campaign strategy which apes the Let’s Stay Together campaign, which last week published a letter signed by more than 200 celebrities and public figures also urging a No vote. I’m not sure that any of these letters will have any influence on the way those living in Scotland actually cast their votes. But I can’t help feeling the gentle tone of the Let’s Stay Together letter, below, hits a better note than the Lib Dem petition exclaiming “Scotland should stay!”

The decision on whether to leave our share country is, of course, absolutely yours alone. Nevertheless, that decision will have a huge effect on all of us in the rest of the United Kingdom. We want to let you know how very much we value our bonds of citizenship with you, and to express our hope that you will vote to renew them. What unites us is much greater than what divides us.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Here’s my fantasy football team. Feel free to mock it.

by Stephen Tall on August 15, 2014

fantasy football teamHere is my starting fantasy football team. I’m popping it up here as I’m curious to see how many, if any, of my 15 will still be there come May 2015. Oh, and if you’re a LibDemVoice reader why not join our league and compete against 100+ ? Simply click here.

4 photographic trips down the Liberal Party memory lane

by Stephen Tall on August 15, 2014

(All photographs above currently on sale via eBay, if that’s your thing.)

My recommended reading for today August 15, 2014

by Stephen Tall on August 15, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention in the past couple of days…

Why Lib Dems shouldn’t keep schtum about tuition fees

by Stephen Tall on August 14, 2014

tuition fees vote“University tuition fee rise has not deterred poorer students from applying”. That was the headline in The Guardian this week reporting new analysis by the Independent Commission on Fees chaired by Will Hutton:

The raising of tuition fees to £9,000 has not put off students from disadvantaged backgrounds from applying to university – although the gap in applications between those from wealthy and poor backgrounds remains wide, according to new analysis. …

The commission found that university application rates for 18-year-olds in England have continued to recover from their post-rise lows, with application rates for 2014 entry – including students who will receive their A-level results on Thursday – almost two percentage points higher than in 2010.

While students who are not eligible for free school meals – available for pupils from households earning less than £16,000 – remain more than twice as likely to go to university, the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students has narrowed from 30.5% in 2010 to 29.8% in 2013.

“Disadvantaged young people are applying to and entering higher education at higher rates than ever before, which is excellent news,” said Professor Les Ebdon, director of the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education watchdog.

The scare-mongering of the tuition fees critics has — thankfully — not proven to be self-prophesying: applications to universities are up, applications from students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are up even more.

There remain concerns, particularly about the falls in applications from mature and part-time students, and those need to be addressed. But even if you don’t regard the policy as a success (to be clear: I do) it’s no longer possible to claim it as the disastrous failure its fiercest opponents expected (and seemed sometimes to want it to be).

Whenever I mention fees here commenters below-the-line argue we should just shut up about it, that the mere mention of the policy re-ignites public animosity at many of our MPs’ infamous breaking of their pledge. I disagree. The public will remember fees and our U-turn for a long time: that’s unavoidable. I think the outrage is over-done — both Labour and Conservatives have about-faced on policies before even when they’ve had healthy majorities without attracting the same opprobrium – but it is what it is. We have to live with it.

What I don’t think that means is that the policy should parade around for the rest of time with a big ‘kick me’ sign on its back because of it. Yes, those who signed the pledge to vote against fee increases screwed up. (By the by, I’ve written this week that my long-held pro-fees was what stopped me from standing for Parliament for the party.)

But the fees policy as crafted by Vince Cable and David Willetts is the very nature of Coalition politics: a negotiated agreement between two parties which was much-improved by the Lib Dem presence in government, is an improvement on the Labour system it replaced, and which is, by and large, working well in reality. We shouldn’t keep schtum about that: we should tell people.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.



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