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. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I don't remember the party going through all this procedure when the whip was withdrawn from Jenny Tonge. If Rennard won't at least make an apology, they should withdraw the whip.