Sexism

Lord Rennard: The inflexible winner against the silenced many

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Part One: To Recap

He’s smiling. He’s powerful. He’s clearly smart. He’s responsible for the steady growth of a main political party for the last 30 years. He’s an MBE. He’s fat and jolly. He’s been owed the very success of the Deputy Prime Minister. He’s wealthy. He’s the catalyst in the centrist portion of the coalition. He’s a Baron. He’s Lord Rennard.

And he has his hand on your leg.

He asks you to join him upstairs. He’s the chief executive of a cause for which you work. He’s not your boss: he’s the boss. He’s admired by everyone around you. You’re at a work event. How dare he? You say no, of course and move yourself away.

You report the incident and nothing happens. Even he’s acknowledged nothing has happened.

I’ve waited to write about the Rennard allegations. The way it has all unfolded has been conventional and shocking. It began, as we all remember, with an exclusive Channel 4 News report, breaking the stories of allegations of inappropriate touching and propositioning by Chris Rennard to activists, candidates and colleagues spanning years.

Within minutes the Liberal Democrat party issued the classic response, explaining that there would be an investigation into these matters. Only days later did we realise how the party would threaten and hector and warn Rennard to say sorry. Yesterday he issued a lengthy and petulant statement in which he made clear he will not apologise.

He has been suspended from the party.

Part Two: The Why

HashtagRennard has been called a scandal, largely because it reveals a disgusting and taboo alleged pattern of behaviour from a senior, decorated, venerated public figure in a political party; the people who are supposed to remain honest and unblemished.

But I consider it a scandal for what came after. It took a national television news crew, countless newspaper updates and the typical storm on Twitter to suspend the apparently indecent peer.

When you see the affected women speaking, their shaky words, their nervousness, their total embarrassment and bravery involved in talking about this, it becomes clear how wrongly shaming the experiences they describe were for them.

They had their jobs at stake. One has wished to remain nameless, for she still wants to work for the Liberal Democrats. Quite rightly; she’s done nothing wrong so far. Rennard should be turned away.

But they did speak out. To the entire nation, because the nation is interested.

And what of the rest, those in ordinary jobs, those treated inappropriately by their seniors, those silent to protect their livelihood, or ignored for their bullies aren’t public officials? It does happen, and all the time.

Of course, this case is a typical one in that it involves a man in seniority supposedly mistreating his women colleagues, but such stuff takes place across and between both sexes. Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project shines a telling and horrible light, having collected 50,000+ confessions, complaints and chronicles of similar and much worse endured.

My hope is that the Rennard debacle teaches us all that indecency, to put it mildly, now exists in all echelons of employment and is pandemic. Perhaps this final square shaded in will be enough for us to look at the entire picture, and acknowledge that those affected need a voice, and society will prioritise this, to take it seriously and stamp it out

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