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Lib Dem sexual harassment report: what you need to know

12 June 2013

Helena Morrissey has published her report on the allegations of sexism in the Liberal Democrats triggered by the Lord Rennard scandal. In short, she concludes that there wasn’t a cover-up, but her report suggests the party was guilty more of a cock-up. She told journalists this afternoon that ‘mistakes were definitely made by Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Jo Swinson’, and that ‘I think the party should have done things differently’. Here are the five main points from the 59-page report on ‘Processes and culture within the Liberal Democrats and Recommendations for Change’:

1. The party failed to address complaints properly, but did not consciously cover them up.

Morrissey’s report said:

‘My review has revealed a number of people within the Party failing to properly investigate complaints in a timely and professional manner. However, the reasons for this have been varied and I found little evidence to suggest a conscious attempt to ‘cover up’ problems. Instead, there has been a tendency for the Party to try to ‘handle’ complaints rather than to fully and properly investigate them in a timely, professional manner. Individuals appear to have been generally acting in good faith but without realising the importance of adhering to process or being aware of the processes in place. While this may appear a benign mistake, it has caused problems to fester unresolved, to the detriment of all involved.’

None of those at the top were judged guilty of a cover-up, rather Morrissey judged that they should have taken certain steps to address complaints that they failed to take. The report says ‘no-one really knew quite what to do in this sensitive situation’. Paul Burstow comes in for particular criticism as chief whip at the time, with the review judging that even though he believed the women involved did not want the matter taken further, he should have ‘proactively taken the issue to the president’. Swinson and Alexander acted in ‘good faith’, but their response to the allegations was ‘ultimately not sufficient’.

Morrissey said she only suspected a cover-up in one instance, but that further inquiries into the specific allegations confirmed that human resources had been involved.

2. The inquiries that did take place added to the confusion.

Questions still remain as to whether the women involved wanted a formal investigation. Morrissey suggested that complaints should have been written down, and that the staff listening to the complaints should not have promised confidentiality. The report says: ‘In this case, the ambiguity now over whether all the women did in fact want to remain anonymous would not exist if a proper and prompt investigation had been instigated.’ The party should have investigated the allegations regardless of the complainants’ desire to remain anonymous.

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3. The Lib Dems are a complex party.

Anyone who doubted that just needs to look at this absurd organisational chart of the party.


Morrissey described it as ‘byzantine’, and said the ‘the organisational construct of the Liberal Democrats, as well as the sharing of power has made it difficult to impose and then monitor a common set of standards including around personal behaviour and conduct’. She doesn’t hold out much hope for that changing, suggesting it is ‘integral to the party’.

Morrissey also charted the growth of Lord Rennard’s ‘power base’, which grew under the ‘relatively relaxed management style’ of Charles Kennedy as party leader. One witness interviewed by the inquiry said:

‘Paddy got up at 6am in the morning and wanted to know how many pen nibs there were. Charles let a thousand flowers bloom. A gap opened up which Chris [Rennard] filled.’

And she observed that like other parties, the Lib Dems were like a ‘religious community, where the belief set overrides personal disappointments’.

She recommended that a Pastoral Care Office be set up in Party HQ as a contact point for all complaints that cannot be resolved through informal or local discussions. The office would have its own phone number for taking complaints, and provide employment and volunteer legal advice. It will act as an internal whistleblower.

4. The party did make mistakes in its media handling of the Rennard allegations when they broke.

Morrissey argued that the party should have offered a ‘proactive statement explaining what the Leadership had and had not been aware of and announcing proper, albeit belated investigations might not have defused the bomb but would have been better for the party than the damage limitation that followed’.

5. There was no suggestion that the behaviour continued after the 2008 allegations. 

Morrissey told journalists at her briefing. But she also confirmed that the constituency of Mike Hancock, who has resigned the party whip while he fights a civil case, ‘was included in terms of that locale and behaviour there’.

Is this bad for the Lib Dems? Well, it could be worse. That there was no conscious cover-up is a relief for the party leadership. But the report is very clear that the party failed to meet expectations when it came to handling complaints, and that its organisation made this even more difficult.

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Show comments
  • CharlietheChump

    Late to this but clearly what we need to know about the libdems is NOTHING.
    A shrinking clan of pointless misfits with not even a place as a party of protest.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Stripped down, this report says nothing. Lib Dems pole dancing again.

  • Smithersjones2013

    So we have a ‘greywash’ and one that states the bleedin’ obvious? The Libdems couldn’t organise a party in a brewery. Go figure. A Libdem (even a woman) wasn’t going to fully condemn them now would they?

    The whole confusing organisation ‘excuse’ is a misdirection. The simple reality is that if the Libdems had nationally officers empowered to address such complaints directly (as any national business, charity or public sector organisation would have done) then there would have been no confusion. The fact that in this day and age they still do not is a disgrace. Its just further emphasises how the Libdems for all their pretense and posturing are still rank amateurs. Of course their amateur leader happens by patronage and happenstance to have been made Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

    Its quite frightening that we allow such amateurs so much power. I suppose its down to the fact that you don’t really need a real job let alone a whole CV full of them to become a senior politician. Perhaps the biggest observation here has not been made and that is that we should hold our political parties to much higher standards of behaviour.

  • Alan Douglas

    After Paddy Pantsdown, Simon “less gay than thou” Hughes, and Jeremy Thorpe, why is anyone surprised ? This kind of liberal sexual behaviour seems to go with being a Lib Dem. They are so much more understanding of personal peccadillos than other, stuffier parties. Hence clearly superior ….

    Alan Douglas

    • CharlietheChump

      Aah Thorpe, I’ll never forget the Eye Christmas cover: “As Liberals shot their dogs by night”. . .

  • George Laird

    Dear All

    Do you know the problems with investigations?

    Generally the people at the top are never guilty, and if they can’t get out of it cleanly, then it was a c*ck up, its all a mistake.

    There must be a lot of c*ck ups, too many in fact not be be raising at least a left eyebrow.

    This story highlights that in politics it is still the middle ages or better than that, the dark ages when it comes to complaints.

    Slow to act, not interested and more about dragging things out in the belief that it will all go away.

    Hope and aspiration.

    Some times it won’t, what does it say that a Pastoral Care Office should be set up?

    Like they will have a lot of business?

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • Tory_High_Command

    This doesn’t let the Lib Dems off the hook at all. The fact that they did not, and do not seem to have still, have any robust processes for reporting and handling sexual abuse and harrassment would be considered almost criminal in any other organisation, and should not be excused in this case.

    To fail to have some processes, when it is manifest to everyone that they are required, does equate to a cover up and to a culpable failure of care.

  • HFC

    But the Limp Dumb wimmin are so, so attractive – well aren’t they?

    • CharlietheChump

      Woof woof

  • Colin Forbes

    I love the idea of a cock-up in a report on sexual harassment. And that it took 59 pages of non-speak (f the quote in italics is a reasonable sample) to reach that conclusion.
    I could have done so on the back of a postcard.

  • In2minds

    “the party was guilty more of a cock-up….” –

    That’s when I stopped reading!

  • MirthaTidville

    All you need to know is that the awful Lim Dubs have been publically skewered,and knocked off their `Holier than thou` high ground for once. Another nail in their coffin on the way to a lot less of them after 2015

  • Radford_NG

    That’s nothing to what they get up to in the SWP/UAF. “Socialist Workers Party leadership under fire over rape kangaroo court.”[Guardian;9 Mch 2013] SEE

  • HookesLaw

    The LDs have a bigoted sense of their own self righteousness.
    Pompous sanctimonious holier than thou

    • Shazza

      Never forget their perfidy over the boundaries issues. Yellow stripes down their backs to match their ties.

  • Alexsandr

    so the limp dems have found that the limp dems acted OK?

    well they would, would they not?

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