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.