Liberal Democrat news
Today is International Women’s Day. It is right that we come together as a party to celebrate the life changing advances in women’s rights both at home and around the world. Advances that Liberal Democrats championed in opposition and are delivering in Government.
But it is also right that – following the events of recent weeks – we take a long, hard look in the mirror. No doubt you will be aware of the recent allegations that have been made about sexual harassment in our party. I won’t talk about the specific allegations. They will be investigated thoroughly and independently and we must respect due process. And we must remember that due process is for the accused as well as the accusers.
But I do want to talk about the other side of this. The fact that the women involved feel let down. They deserved to have their concerns and allegations examined thoroughly and properly dealt with. But clearly, that has not always been the case.
When concerns were brought to the attention of members of my team we acted to address them. But this should not have just been the responsibility of a few individuals acting with the best of intentions. It must be the responsibility of the party as a whole to make sure we have the processes and support structures in place now and in the future.
We didn’t, and as a result we let people down. Liberal Democrats, that is not acceptable to me.
For a party that cherishes equality and women’s rights, we have no excuse for failing to live up to the highest standards in the treatment of women. The standards we – rightly – expect of others.
I joined this party because I believe in empowerment; freedom; dignity. I believe that, where an individual feels that they have been badly treated, or that power has been abused, they must have confidence that those concerns will be properly addressed.
That’s why we have set up two inquiries. The first to look at the allegations that have been made, led by Alistair Webster QC. And the second, independent inquiry, to look at our party’s procedures, organisational culture and how allegations made in the past have been handled.
We announced earlier today that this will be led by Helena Morrissey – who is known for her unmatched expertise in pushing equality and diversity at the top of the corporate world. And I will personally put in place whatever additional safeguards are needed.
In the meantime, we have set up a whistle-blower hotline, run by Public Concern at Work, for those who have information to come forward and to receive confidential advice. We have made counselling services available for those in need of support. And we will of course co-operate with the police if and when appropriate.
I will drive whatever changes are necessary to stop this ever happening again.
From now on, if you feel you have been a victim of harassment, it will be easy and straightforward to report it. And if you report it, it will be investigated fully and acted on effectively.
But the lessons we must learn are not just about the rules and processes we must put in place. This is about something bigger than that. It is about the way we conduct ourselves. It’s about treating one another with respect.
Sexism must have no place in the Liberal Democrats. Harassment must have no place in the Liberal Democrats. Abuse of power and position must have no place in the Liberal Democrats.
I won’t tolerate it. Our party should be better than that.
It is often said that Westminster is an old boy’s club. It is. Parliament is stuffed full, in both the Commons and Lords, of hundreds and hundreds of men and precious few women. Men outnumber women by nearly four to one.
Too often, barriers are put in front of talented and committed women to stop them progressing. It’s a male world, made by men for men, occupied for centuries by men and designed to work to the advantage of men. And Westminster is far from the only boy’s club in our country.
In business, in the legal profession, in journalism and in countless workplaces up and down the country, men dominate and men make the rules. Where the man at the next desk does the same job as you but gets paid more. Where you’re in a meeting full of men and you’re treated like your voice doesn’t count. Where you want to progress in your career but know that starting a family will make it impossible to get ahead.
In 21st century Britain there are glass ceilings for women everywhere you look. The loss of talent is immense. Our economy, and more importantly our entire society, misses out.
We need a culture change, in Westminster and beyond. If we want to lead that change then we have to set an example.
I am proud of what the Liberal Democrats are doing to make our country and our world a place where all women can have the same opportunities as men. The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy. To do that we need to harness the talents of women across the country.
And we are building a fairer society – where women are free to realise their potential.
Modern empowerment is about creating choices and spreading opportunity. This April, we will have cut taxes for millions of working people by £600, by raising the point at which you start paying Income Tax.
And because women are disproportionately in part-time work and low-paid jobs, it is women who benefit the most: as of this April, 1.3m women on low pay will no longer pay Income Tax at all.
We are levelling the playing field by introducing shared parental leave and flexible working – policies Liberal Democrats have campaigned on for years.
And they can be transformative. Right now, if a young couple are expecting a baby and they sit down to discuss how they will balance work and home. A life changing experience boils down to basic sums: How will we manage our income? How much will bills cost? How many hours do we need to work and where does childcare fit in?
And it’s an equation where the answer is so often rigged because, whichever way you look at it, the solution ends up being the mother doing more of the caring, and the father doing more of the earning – even if that isn’t what the young couple wants.
She gets the year-long maternity leave; after that, the expectation is she’ll continue to be the primary carer – so she’s the one who goes part-time. Lower pay, fewer shots at promotion. Work less, earn less.
It’s heartbreaking to watch women who feel forced to lower their ambitions for themselves. And it’s heartbreaking to see fathers missing out on being with their children.
As a father, I find the outdated assumption that men should go out and work and women should stay at home and look after the children frankly absurd.
So we are giving mothers and fathers more choice to decide for themselves how to balance their families and their careers. And we’re helping parents with childcare, with more free early years education for all three and four-year-olds and for two-year-olds from lower income families.
That’s not all we’re doing.
At the top of our biggest companies, Vince Cable is pushing for greater and greater female representation in the boardroom. And he’s getting results – there are now only seven FTSE 100 companies with all-male boards, down from 21 in 2010.
That’s important progress, but we have to keep up momentum. There was some worrying evidence reported today, which warns this may have stalled. And Lord Davies is right to say that, if we don’t make sufficient progress in the future, we may need to move to a more direct approach, like quotas.
For those whose working life is over we are levelling the playing field too. A generous new flat rate pension – designed and delivered by Steve Webb – means that women will no longer be punished in retirement for taking time out of their working lives to raise children or care for relatives.
We are creating a safer society for women, with measures to tackle domestic violence, forced marriage and stalking. And tonight, you’ll hear from Lynne Featherstone how we have put lifting women and girls out of poverty at the heart of our international aid policy.
Lynne and I recently visited a dusty, old school in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to see how an aid scheme to fund girls’ education that I announced in 2011 – the biggest of its kind ever – was being put into practice. The children travelled from miles and miles around to get to the school.
And despite the poverty, despite the conditions, the young girls we met there dreamed big. Every single one of them wanted to be an engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer. One even said she wanted to be Prime Minister. I said I had no doubt she could achieve it.
To think that girls like those Lynne and I met in Ethiopia might have their ambitions crushed just because they are girls – that they might die younger and live their lives in poverty and servitude – is devastating.
In Ethiopia, fewer than one in six girls go to secondary school. And we know the difference education can make to their lives. Girls who are educated will earn more. They are more likely to marry later. They are more likely to get themselves and their babies immunised against fatal diseases and those who have a secondary education are three times less likely to be HIV positive.
To meet them, to hear their stories and their ambitions, brings home the difference we – the Liberal Democrats – can make to their lives. At home and abroad, the Liberal Democrats are helping women take more control over their careers, their money and their lives.
But there is one area where we have not provided enough opportunity for women – in our own ranks. We need more female councillors, assembly members, MSPs and MEPs. And we need more women Liberal Democrats MPs.
I’m proud that we’ve already selected Julia Cambridge in Chesterfield, Claire Thomas in Hull, and Judith Bunting in Newbury. I’m proud that Layla Moran, who spoke so passionately and eloquently at our last conference rally in Brighton, was the first of our Leadership Programme candidates to be selected in Oxford West and Abingdon.
And you’ll hear from another of our fantastic female Leadership Programme candidates, Sarah Yong, this evening. I know she’ll be hugely impressive on stage tonight. But she’ll be even more impressive when she’s in Parliament.
Our job now is to get these women, and those we select in the coming months, elected. And my challenge to you – in every selection committee you sit on, with every candidate you support and every vote you cast – is to consider how you can help us change for the better.
When I speak to our leadership programme candidates I know that the future of our party is bright. When I saw the huge numbers of young people pile through the doors of our HQ in Eastleigh, I could see that the future of our party is bright.
We must be a more diverse party. And we will be a better party for it.
It now gives me great pleasure to introduce someone who has smashed more glass ceilings and done more for women in our politics and our party than just about anyone – Shirley Williams.
Last weekend we passed a milestone for our party – our 25th anniversary. A quarter of a century since the Liberal Party and the SDP merged and the Liberal Democrats were created. We have come a very long way.
So many times in those two and a half decades we have been written off. But every time we confounded our critics. The history of the Liberal Democrats is marked with elections we were not supposed to win: Eastbourne; Ribble Valley; Kincardine and Deeside; Newbury; Christchurch; Eastleigh (the first time); Littleborough and Saddleworth; Winchester; Romsey; Brent East; Leicester South; Dunfermline and West Fife.
So how better to mark that milestone – to celebrate our birthday – than by doing what we have done over and over when the chips were down: win a crucial by-election.
What we did eight days ago was remarkable. People said that by joining the Coalition we would lose our identity, our soul. That it would make it impossible to win elections in our own right. Some said that we were finished.
We proved, once again, you should never write off the Liberal Democrats. But it wasn’t just about last Thursday.
For the three weeks beforehand, hundreds and hundreds of you turned out day after day, rain or shine, to make sure we won. We smashed our own by-election records left, right and centre:
- More volunteers through the door every day than ever before;
- More phone calls, from all over the country, than ever before;
- More donations from individuals than ever before.
What was especially exciting was how many young people took part in the campaign – many of whom were not even born 25 years ago. Everyone who came to Eastleigh saw the enthusiasm, the energy and the vibrancy of our campaign.
I want to thank every single one of you for all your effort and commitment. I want to thank Keith House and his formidable Eastleigh team. Victoria Marsom, our superb campaign manager, and Hilary Stephenson, our deputy chief executive. Two brilliant women who masterminded our by-election campaign. And, of course, our new MP for Eastleigh – Mike Thornton.
The unspoken story of the last year has been that Liberal Democrats are winning again. In council by-elections in every corner of the country, Conservative-facing and Labour-facing, we have been making gain after gain after gain.
Last year, contrary to the impression you’d get from the media, we actually made an overall gain at council by-elections. And then came Eastleigh.
It was not a campaign we wanted to have to fight. The circumstances that caused it were not ones we would ever have wished for. But we dusted ourselves off and we said bring it on. Our opponents threw everything they had at us. Controversy dominated the headlines. And yet, despite all that, we won.
Now no one can be in any doubt: the Liberal Democrats are winning again. And we won’t stop here.
This May, we have county council elections across England. Many, once again, in areas where our principle rivals are the Conservatives. We showed in Eastleigh what we have always known – where we work we win.
So take nothing for granted. Work, work and work some more. If you do, we can and will win. In Eastleigh we showed something else too. We have a fantastic record locally – cutting council tax, creating jobs and protecting green spaces.
And we have a fantastic record nationally – cutting people’s taxes, boosting the state pension, more money for schools, and creating more apprenticeships than ever before.
In Eastleigh, we didn’t shy away from being in government, we embraced it and we campaigned on it with confidence. Every leaflet had a local message and a national message.
We won not in spite of being in power, we won because we are in power – locally and nationally.
I heard, shortly after the result, the Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps explaining that the Conservatives lost Eastleigh because governing parties don’t win mid-term by-elections. I know denial can be a powerful thing, but he seemed to have missed entirely what happened.
Well, Grant Shapps I’ve got news for you. The Conservatives might not be able to win by-elections when they’re in government. But the Liberal Democrats can. So when you speak to people ahead of May’s elections, tell them what you are doing for them and their community locally.
And tell them what we are doing nationally. Tell them how we are building a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. Tell them what we are doing and they will respond.
And when our opponents tell us we are finished, remember Eastleigh. Remember what we did, together, for three weeks in February. Remember the buzz, and the enthusiasm. Remember how it felt when the result was announced.
When people tell you we don’t have a chance, tell them: The Liberal Democrats are winning again.
The review will also look at attitudes towards women in the party, as well as the employment relationship between staff, elected officials and volunteers; training; and how to lead a wider change in Westminster.
Commenting, Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Gordon said:
“Following recent allegations it is clear that we in the Liberal Democrats failed to live up to our political ideals.
“We recognise that we need to adapt how we operate. As a political party which prides itself on equality, we must give everyone confidence they will be treated fairly and equally and that they will be listened to.
“It is vital this review is done independently of the party, in a way which can be frank and can scrutinise thoroughly. I am delighted Helena has agreed to chair the review. She has been a leading light in the development of women and breaking barriers, and I am sure that she will make an immensely positive difference to both our party and to politics.”
Commenting further, Helena Morrissey said:
“Too much of our society has operated in old-boys’ networks. It leads to an atmosphere where women don’t feel valued or listened to. We can only make changes in society when those at the top in business and politics lead by example.
“While prompted in difficult circumstances, this review is a very important step in giving everyone, especially women, a greater confidence in politics and the Liberal Democrats.
“I will be talking to people at all levels of the party to recognise where there have been failings to help guide a culture shift and develop a much more equal and trusting set of standards.
"As I embark on my independent inquiry I would like to set out the structure of the review and how I am going to gather input. The review will cover three overlapping areas:
- Processes (and what did and did not happen)
- Attitudes and culture within the Party
- A blueprint for the future
"This is a Call for Written Evidence for three questions around the areas outlined above:
- Do you have examples of specific incidences where processes around complaints were not followed or where there appeared to be gaps in policies or procedures for dealing with such complaints?
- Can you provide examples which illustrate weaknesses in the Party’s attitudes and culture – past and present?
- Do you have ideas about what needs to change for the Party to look to the future with confidence that any form of harassment within the Party will be properly dealt with?
"For the avoidance of doubt, I will not be making judgements on specific cases or making any assumptions regarding the innocence or guilt of individuals.
"I will be structuring and preparing the review over the remainder of this month, along with conducting some key early interviews. The bulk of witness interviews will be conducted in April and I aim to write the report in May with a view to a June publication date. I will be supported in the work by Jane Smithard and an administrative assistant.
"Please submit all written evidence by Friday 5th April to email@example.com. Thank you."
Our focus throughout the campaign was to knock on as many doors and speak to as many people as possible to tell them about our excellent local candidate, Mike Thornton, and the Liberal Democrats’ strong local and national record delivering for people in Eastleigh.
We fought this campaign on the issues that matter to local people: jobs; growth; protecting green spaces; cutting taxes; and more money for pensioners and schools.
“We are working closely with the police to help establish if any criminal activity has taken place.
“We would encourage anyone with information to contact the police and speak to specially trained officers on 0208 721 4601.
“While we establish if criminal activity has taken place we will continue with the two inquiries set up by the Party.”The representatives from the Liberal Democrats were led by the Chief Executive, Tim Gordon.
“After 13 years in Government, the only action Ed Balls took was to raise the amount of tax those on low incomes paid by abolishing the 10p rate. It was the biggest tax mistake they ever made and it has taken them until now to realise their error.
“The best way to cut taxes for those on low incomes is take them out of tax altogether. That is why Liberal Democrats in Government are raising the Personal Allowance. From April, nearly 25m people will get a further Income Tax cut so they will be £600 a year better off than under Labour.
“Labour had 13 years in Government to make property taxes fairer by introducing the Liberal Democrat policy of a Mansion Tax. With the Liberal Democrats in Government the wealthy are paying more in each year of this Parliament compared to any under Labour.”
“From the case of Ian Tomlinson through to the hacking scandal, Liberal Democrats have always been clear that the public must have a transparent way to hold the police to account. That is why Liberal Democrat Conference voted to reform the IPCC and called for new ways to professionalise the police service.
“I’m delighted that the Home Secretary agrees and that the Coalition Government is now opening up the police service to greater accountability by giving the IPCC new powers and resources.
“It is also great news that the coverage of the IPCC will be expanded to include private contractors. Liberal Democrats have long said that if they act like police, they should be accountable like the police.”
Mike is a popular local borough councillor, who has lived locally for 19 years, and has kept council tax bills down, while protecting front line local services.
He has led local opposition to Conservative County Council cuts to libraries, children's centres, buses and youth centres.
As Eastleigh MP, Mike Thornton will -
- Fight to protect green spaces from Tory development and gravel extraction
- Work to bring more jobs and investment to our area - the 500 jobs and £60m a year into the local economy at the Lib Dem Council backed Ageas Bowl are a good start
- Campaign to cut income tax for local workers - that's on top the £600 a year tax cut that the Lib Dems have already won
Voting Liberal Democrat will give Eastleigh residents an excellent local MP who will work to deliver a stronger economy in a fairer society, allowing everyone to get on in life.
Mike Thornton, a business and development manager and has been a parish and borough councillor since 2007. He is involved with the annual Bishopstoke Carnival and is an active member of the local church.
Mike lives with his wife and daughter in Bishopstoke. In his spare time, Mike enjoys playing squash and tennis.