Thursday, August 21, 2014

Post? Rennard

Yesterday I blogged on Lib Dem Voice  my response to Lord Rennard's readmittance to the party. I've been interested in some of the responses I elicited......hence the - Post? since I have been rightly challenged about the notion that we are anywhere near 'post' the affair.

There are those who argue he has not been found guilty of anything - that we have had due process - that we should all just accept the outcome and welcome him back into the fold. But the fact remains for all too many, in particular the complainants, it is not resolved. And one has to ask, if he has been truly exonerated, why has the leadership made it clear he will take no leading role in the upcoming general election campaign? This is a completely unsatisfactory outcome for everyone, including Lord Rennard. Although, I have to say, if I had been accused of something I vehemently denied I would have asked for a hearing in order to be able to confront my accusers. 

We can't change what has happened, but we all have the power to change the future. Yes, the rules were ridiculous and completely out of step with modern workplace practices, but the genesis of this was people not being prepared to listen or act when concerns were raised. So, let's start listening  to people even when we may consider their perceived grievance as trivial. Let's recognise that the worst of all worlds is to try to brush anything under the carpet. Yes deal with it quietly or in confidence, but deal with it - and never ever tolerate pressure being put on people to keep quiet out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Introducing Linda Jack on...............

For some time I have been writing a blog for youth sector magazine Children and Young People Now, Linda Jack on........... which is one of the reasons I have neglected this blog. As many of you will know I am passionate about young people and have always done what I can to ensure that we have policies in the party and the country that properly take account of their needs, hopes, fears and aspirations. For that reason I was proud to chair the party working group that came up with our youth policy "Free to be Young" (which it should be said, includes pics of my children - see if you can spot them!). 

Today I've been reflecting on the cabinet reshuffle as it relates to the youth sector. But I have used the blog to reflect on a range of youth issues both as part of the sector and as a Lib Dem, including the need for qualified teachers, raising the age of criminal responsibility, benefits and young people, tackling race inequality in education and employment and many other issues that impact on young people and those who work with them. 

One of our most urgent priorities as a party, I believe, is to re-engage with the young people for whom we have been and always should be, their natural champions. We can do that by reflecting our understanding, expressed in our policies, of the issues that often impact on them unfairly. This is particularly for instance if they have a disability, are from BAME communities, are looked after, are in the criminal justice system, are homeless or living in poverty, are dealing with bullying, particularly with homophobic or islamophobic bullying. I trust this blog, while sometimes challenging our party, goes some way to continuing to demonstrate that we do still have a commitment to our young people and will, I trust, produce a manifesto that demonstrates that. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Can You Help?

Do you work with young people or know others who do? If so, do you have ideas for activities to help young people manage their money more effectively? If yes, please visit my latest Children and Young People Now blog and get in touch if you can help. Thanks!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

DAY 204 IN THE BIG BROTHER HOUSE... The Rennard Saga continues

Someone on Facebook just commented in relation to the ongoing Rennard story “Day 204 in the Big Brother House” – never a truer word spoken in jest. An issue that could have been resolved years ago, quietly and behind closed doors, has turned into a soap opera/reality TV debacle. The Liberal Democrat stone has been turned and revealed to be more of a Pandora’s Box. 

So now we have the slightly surreal spectacle of our undemocratically selected peers appealing to their democratic right to determine a matter which has serious implications for the whole party. 

I welcome the statement from Alistair Webster 
clarifying his position, but he too has been inadvertently drawn into a situation which should never have arisen, had our procedures been more robust and more in line with current employment and voluntary sector practice.

On Radio 4 Today yesterday I argued that Lord Rennard had 3 choices, to apologise, to call for a hearing, or to leave the party he loves and has devoted his life to, in a parlous state. I think the opportunity to apologise is rapidly diminishing – it will need someone with the wisdom of Solomon to come up with a form of words acceptable to both sides. 

In spite of everything I cannot believe that the man who has done so much to build our party would want to contribute to its demolition. Which frankly leaves only one realistic option, one, which if it were me and I genuinely believed I did not have a case to answer, I would relish. Appoint someone to chair the hearing who has the confidence of both sides and go through a formal process so that both sides can ultimately gain closure. 

There is now the spectacle of each side upping the anti, today we hear that Lord Rennard will take legal action if the whip isn’t restored, members of FPC are arguing that his position on that committee is now untenable, the women concerned are talking about taking civil action. What is disappointing is that we are losing sight of the values we all claim to share, a belief in creating a fair, free and open society in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. We all believe that the Liberal Democrats are the only party who can deliver that, let’s live our values and get back to fighting for what is fundamentally important for this country and the people we seek to represent. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rennard and the 51% problem.....

It takes a lot these days to rouse me from my blogging slumber, but this evening was one such time. I was on my way to Eastleigh last year when a friend called to alert me to the fact that the Rennard story was about to break. She had called me because while I hadn't directly witnessed what happened to her, I witnessed the impact it had had on her the following morning. I had given what advice I could, most importantly that she should report what had happened, but she was clearly shaken and upset.

After the story broke I was interviewed by the police and was surprised when they decided that they didn't have enough evidence to bring a case. But, I thought, now it appears naively, at least we have an internal investigation that will determine what happened. I had, mistakenly it now seems, assumed that the investigation would be carried out along the lines normally pursued in a workplace investigation. An independent investigator examines the evidence, interviews key witnesses and determines whether or not there may be a case to answer. Ultimately a panel or a senior manager will make a decision on the balance of probabilities, not beyond reasonable doubt - that decision will be for them to make - not the investigating officer. 

But as Lib Dems we go further even than the CPS, who require a "reasonable prospect of conviction" in criminal convictions, in advising that the investigating officer should ask themselves:

Does the evidence tend to show that any the grounds contained in the  constitution (including those cited by the complainant) are satisfied? When assessing that, a useful question to ask yourself is whether there is a realistic prospect (i.e. a 51% chance) that any of those grounds are made out. If so, you should then consider whether the case is potentially serious enough to warrant any of the sanctions contained in the Membership Rules being imposed.

(Hmmm -51% rings a bell - percentage of women in the country - and we wonder why we are so under represented? )

Many years ago my ex husband was involved in an unfair dismissal case on the grounds of race. The union solicitors wouldn't take it because there was a less than 50% chance of success, but we were fortunate in having a regional union official who was prepared to take on the case himself. As a result he was able to confront his employers, they were cross examined and demonstrated, as observed by the chair of the tribunal, that they were not only guilty of indirect but also direct discrimination. 

As a Branch Secretary for Unison I represented many members in disciplinary and grievance procedures. One case (that funnily enough I came across when filing yesterday!) was an investigation into alleged bullying where the investigating officer determined that due to the fact than less than half the team had been bullied there was no case to answer (!!!) I immediately insisted on a fresh investigation, the result of which was a hearing which found against that manager and dismissed her. At no stage was there a "threshold" of evidence. The investigating officer needed to determine whether or not there may be a case to answer, not whether or not the case was proven. 

To be honest, when two, or three, or ten people tell similar stories, one has to conclude that there may be a case. We would not have the cases in the courts at the moment against Dave Lee Travis et al, if it was not that a number of women had come forward telling similar stories. He, of course, like Lord Rennard, deserves the opportunity to defend himself. The unsatisfactory conclusion of today's findings is that Lord Rennard has had no opportunity to confront his accusers and defend himself, nor have the accusers had the opportunity to confront him. 

This is a completely unsatisfactory conclusion - we are already witnessing the sexist divide on Twitter, women who are outraged and men who question what all the fuss is about. And lest any "holier than thou" activists and politicians from other parties should forget - this is not just a Lib Dem issue, it is one that confronts women in all parties and in all professions. What is so depressing is that of all parties, we should have got it right. We didn't. We must. I for one will be raising it at the Diversity Engagement Group on Thursday, I trust others will raise it at every opportunity in the party, locally, regionally and nationally. If not, I fear that many more women will be voting with their feet, not just in the party, but also in the country. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Proud? I Wish!

Like most of you I guess an email headed “Proud” just popped into my inbox from Simon Hughes. I plucked up the courage to read said email and found myself closer and closer to the verge of vomiting. Sorry, but I’ve got to be honest and I wish I didn’t feel this way, if anyone can suggest a way to help me not to please email me asap. But somewhere along the line we have surely lost total touch with our declared values and aims? Yes, we have taken people out of tax, but no, they weren’t the poorest, the poorest weren’t paying tax in the first place and those who have had the additional cash will find it nowhere near compensates for the drop in living standards. Yes, the pupil premium is certainly a Lib Dem win, but frankly, if on the one hand we give the school (who may or may not choose to use the money to support disadvantaged children) money while on the other kicking the child’s family out of their home – what contributes most to their educational success? Yes, we are doing our best to help unemployed young people, but at the same time we are slashing the services that in the past helped them, Youth Service, Connexions – I don’t know about where you live but they are practically wiped out round here. 

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have virtually admitted that the Youth Contract isn’t working (see my CYP Now blog here) so we claim credit for getting 100,000 into work er no, work experience. Work experience?! Of course that may be an important step on the road to a job, but surely what we want is 1 million young people in work?

Having been involved with our last Manifesto process and as a candidate in the 2010 campaign, I was happy to campaign on our priorities. They were costed. They didn’t rely on taking money from the most vulnerable in order to deliver. They were “as well as” not “instead of”. Any Liberal Democrat would have been proud of that. But what we have now is as a result of massive cuts elsewhere. If we have the choice between Pupil Premium and homeless children - which would we choose? Raising the tax threshold - or cutting benefits to the most vulnerable? 

Of course there are some great initiatives; increased support for child care is wonderful. But I have to say my daughter has given up claiming it because it means equivalent cuts to her housing benefit. When I suggested we should resolve that anomaly in our party policy I was told it would be too expensive. So, yet again, the poorest in our communities miss out. 

I must applaud the increased investment in mental health talking therapies. Having lost my sister last year I am sure she would have benefited if those therapies had been around earlier. But… knew there was a but (!)…….the link between mental health and financial worries is well documented. We know that nearly half of unemployed young people have mental health conditions. More and more people are being pushed into debt, especially into the arms of unscrupulous lenders and loan sharks. Oh, and if you need support to get justice…..forget it, we just cut legal aid. So yet again, no evidence of joined up thinking, let’s try and stop people getting ill in the first place.

And of course, there are stand alone achievements that the party is rightly proud of, such as equal marriage and blocking some of the worst excesses of the Tories. But it reminds me of the ethics debates we used to have as students – at what point does what you get in return make  it OK to sell your soul to the devil?!

Friday, July 19, 2013