Helena Morrissey’s Report: some praise is also due

by Stephen Tall on June 13, 2013

helena morrissey reportI offered my first impressions of Helena Morrissey’s independent report into the Lib Dems’ culture and practices here yesterday, based on a skim-read and hearing Helena’s presentation of it at a media briefing.

I read the report in full (available online here) on the train home last night. I recommend it to all Lib Dems, and indeed anyone interested in how organisations can totally mess up when dealing with delicate internal issues.

It’s an excellently written, fair-minded, balanced and practical report which understands the idiosyncratic nature of party politics and those involved — without using that as any kind of excuse to absolve bad decision-making and chaotic processes.

Three quick additions to what I wrote yesterday, all of praise.

First, while there’s been lots of focus on those individuals who made mistakes of one kind or another, one person is singled out for having taken the appropriate action: Baroness (Ros) Scott, party president at the time Lord (Chris) Rennard resigned and when the allegations were circulating within a small group. Here’s what the report say about her actions:

One person who did try proactively to deal with the issue via a separate attempt at this point was Ros Scott, described as ‘the most hands-on President’. Ros Scott was approached towards the end of her Presidential Campaign in 2008 by a man and a woman anxious to speak to her about the allegations. She knew that ‘passing stories around was part of the political world’ but she decided to speak to Rennard once she had heard allegations from two sources – one before and one after her election. She decided to speak first to Alison Suttie and was told about the meeting with Rennard when he had been confronted about the allegations.Ros Scott was still concerned.

A year after Rennard’s resignation, she met two of the women at their request. She suggested that they could make use of the Party Disciplinary procedure, which would require them to make their complaints in writing. She stressed that if they made such a complaint, it would be acted on. The women did not want to go down that route, although at the same time requested that Rennard was
‘barred from all activities’. This was impossible since ‘without a formal process to establish the facts, the barring of Rennard from Party activity would have been impossible in practice and wrong in principle’ (Ros Scott)

Ros Scott subsequently set up a whistle-blower function when Chris Fox became Chief Executive. However, this only applied to staff, not volunteers.

Secondly, the Bones Commission is recognised for diagnosing many of the party’s structural problems which contributed to the failure of anyone to take ultimate responsibility for dealing with the allegations when made. For instance:

I found a high degree of awareness around the potential issues involved with MPs being employers. The ‘Bones Commission’ was unfortunately prescient … It included reviewing the Party’s organisational complexity, assessing its professionalism, budget process, the campaigns strategy and the way key decisions are taken by top level committees. It was hard-hitting in its commentary … Against this diagnosis, the Bones Commission was greatly limited in what it could do, as it set out to introduce changes without recourse to the constitution. It couldn’t take things away and therefore added in new layers such as the shortlived Chief Officers’ Group, a sub-set of Federal Executive in an attempt to narrow down decision-making. Some of its recommendations have been enacted upon – for example, the Party HQ moved from the unpopular ‘rabbit warren’ of Cowley Street to Great George Street, a more modern, open plan space, but many fell by the wayside. While the Bones Commission was ostensibly supportive of and supported by Chris Rennard, it can be read as a challenge to his decisions and approach as Chief Executive.

And finally, much credit is due to those witnesses who came forward — the three women who spoke openly to Channel 4, sparking the row that led to this independent inquiry — but also the 42 individuals who responded to Helena Morrissey’s call for evidence. Much of what they’ve said and is reported by Helena make for difficult reading. But it’s necessary reading. And hopefully the party will learn the hard lessons needed and emerge a stronger organisation for it, with all individuals sure they will be treated respectfully within the Liberal Democrats.

Here’s links to those blog-posts I spotted on the Aggregator which have also talked about the Morrissey Report…

My Response to the Morrissey Inquiry (Louise Shaw)

Helena Morrissey’s well written report makes me want to cry in parts in a good way – pointing out that it’s “simply not credible” to say there aren’t good women candidates, and also that the modern world is a good place for liberal democracy to thrive – I believe both of these statements. I will and have made these points again and again, and will do until more people listen.

Two disclosures, tucked away (Mark Smulian, Liberator’s Blog)

… her report issued by the party today, includes an extensive section on how Rennard came to accumulate an unusual degree of power in the party – whether real or imagined – and about what happened when his accusers despaired of internal processes and went to Channel 4 News last winter.

Quote of the week – Stephen Tall on the Morrissey report and
Morrissey report covers the handling of the Rennard allegations in depth (Paul Walter)

Helena Morrissey’s report into Liberal Democrat culture and processes (Mark Pack)

A witness speaks: Harassment within the Lib Dems (Jon Walls)

The failings are not unique to the Liberal Democrats. The leadership should act confidently in the knowledge that any political opponent who attempts to portray this as a problem unique to the Lib Dems will quickly have a few of their own skeletons dragged out from their closet. Nick Clegg has made a good start. Let’s hope it continues.

Independent inquiry report published into Lib Dem processes and culture post-Rennard allegations (Stephen Tall)

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.