The way the LibDems react to their own sex scandals show that they, rather than Cameron’s Tories, are perhaps the party that has the real problem with women, argues Michael St George
A familiar meme, one beloved of politically-correct Labour and gleefully parrotted by its ever reliably on-side media echo-chamber, re-emerged at PMQs this week: that of the Conservatives’ alleged “problem with women”. That it gained traction at all was more the fault of quite staggeringly inept political management on the part of the Cameroon No 10 operation on the day rather than any definite substance, but that didn’t prevent some old shibboleths being re-hashed.
The trigger for the re-hash opportunity was another announcement of a Tory woman MP standing down at the 2015 General Election: but, for the record, and expressed as a percentage, the proportion of Labour women MPs standing down in 2015 is almost exactly the same as their Tory counterparts – 7.8% vs 8.1%. It’s a non-issue, and the supposed misogyny is almost certainly merely a convenient proxy for Cameron’s privileged background. But it helped to continue a deflection of focus on the very real problems the LibDems have with women.
Of all four main UK political parties, it’s the LibDems who often come across as the most jaw-achingly PC. Their public attachment to regurgitating mainstream left-liberal PC pieties, especially on gender or equality issues, almost verges on parody or caricature. Yet beneath the surface, recent events show the picture to be very much less rosy indeed.
Start with the 2010 General Election and the ensuing Coalition negotiations. Incipient misogyny was being hinted at even before the vote, but of the 57 LibDem MPs elected, only 7 were women, proportionately well below the ratios in the two other main Westminster parties. In the Coalition negotiations that followed, there were no women – not one – in the nominations made by the LibDems for their allocation of Cabinet posts.
Fast forward to the sex-pest and sexual harrassment allegations that seem to have dogged them almost ever since.
To investigate the allegations against the LibDems election and candidate selection Svengali, Lord Christopher Rennard, of “wandering hands”, groping, propositioning, and outright innuendo of preferment in return for sexual favours, has taken about 2 years, and been shrouded in secrecy and obfuscation. Some of the incidents alleged, remember, are claimed to have taken place up to 10 years ago.
Multiple complainants, among them at least two of the party’s most intelligent and articulate prosepects, have told of their complaints being dismissed, or ignored, or being brushed under the carpet, or disappearing into the byzantine labyrinth of the LibDems internal disciplinary procedure. When that procedure looks like this, one could be forgiven for wondering if it was purpose-designed to make complaints disappear permanently…
Eventually, the outcome of the investigation was published in January. It has satisfied virtually no-one, the complainants insisting that their allegations having “credibility” demands an apology, and Rennard, backed by unelected, elderly white male peers in the Lords, insisting that lack of criminal burden of proof means he hasnothing to apologise for.
To cap it all, and perhaps unwittingly give a flavour how sexual harrassment allegations really are viewed, LibDem MEP Chris Davies described the incidents as no more than “the equivalent of an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom“. How very PC and gender-aware….
Then we can move on to the case of LibDem Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, currently suspended, both as MP and City Councillor, after another sordid tale of sex-pest allegations, brushed off and incompletely investigated, has been revealed. Hancock is accused of making, over at least a nine-month period from October 2009, persistent and improper sexual advances to a mentally-ill constituent who had sought his help. It seems she, too, had complained to the LibDems at an early stage, only for her complaints to be rebuffed. And there, for a long while, the matter inconclusively rested.
But what’s only recently emerged are details of a hitherto kept-secret and unpublished report into the allegations, finding evidence very much corroborating the allegations. You can probably do no better than browse the “Hancock” tag on Guido Fawkes’ website to get a flavour of how this sordid affair has developed over the years, but some of the secret report’s revelations, particularly the details of Hancock’s harrassment, are disgusting, and not for the squeamish. Remember, this is a LibDem MP to whom a constituent had turned for help.
There are two points to make here. The first is that, for a small party, the LibDems do seem to have in senior positions a disproportionately high number of MPs, MEPs, Peers and party executives whose attitudes to male-on-female sexual harrassment appear bordrline-neandertal, to say the least.
The second, and arguably more important, is the cavalier, dismissive response to complaints that appears not so much accidental, but systemic. Two major instances of very serious complaints indeed about grave sexual misconduct by senior figures: and two major instances of inadequate investigation with dramatically distasteful confirmation covered and suppressed. You almost start to ask ourself if it’s quasi-cultural.
Which takes us back to the kerfuffle at PMQs and afterwards, where the LibDems understandably kept a low profile. Remind me, which party is it that supposed to have “a problem with women”? Or which is the one’s that’s really got a problem with women?