In terms of member morale and our reputation the news Lib Dem Peers in the House of Lords had voted for Chris Rennard to the Liberal Democrat’s Federal Executive caused the single most damaging day for the Lib Dems since the General Election.
The fact that this was a self-inflicted wound and one that was entirely avoidable made it even harder to stomach.
The attempts to shrug this decision off by party establishment figures as an internal matter shows they’ve learned nothing from Helena Morrissey’s report. You may think I’m overstating things, but:
Yesterday another one of my friends and longstanding activists Katherine Bavage resigned live on Channel Four News.
This morning I received a text from a longstanding member out of the blue:
‘I have just sent a protest re: the ridiculous appointment of Chris Rennard…via the Freepost donation envelope that landed on my mat the same day as the news broke. NOT impressed.’
My friend, a former parliamentary candidate and member of Federal Executive, Kav Kaushik put together an online questionnaire that has attracted over 200 responses in less than 24 hours.
A petition organised by other members to call a Special Conference to change the party’s rules has already met the threshold needed to happen.
And a large number of new members in our Newbies Facebook Group, some of the most enthusiastic people in our party, expressed concerns.
A Twitter Poll I ran asking people if they thought Tim Farron should speak out against the appointment came out 84% in favour.
These reactions are just the tip of an iceberg and reflect a widely held opinion within the party. It looks even worse for women outside our party, looking in.
That peers would think there would be no external scrutiny of their action in electing Rennard to the Federal Executive beggars belief.
It’s probably the case that Tim Farron can’t change their decision but he can speak out strongly against it and lay down the direction he wants to lead the party in. It was good to see Sal Brinton respond and express disappointment but for many of us this was far too late to frame the developing media agenda.
A senior campaigner commented on my Facebook posts yesterday that Chris Rennard was the party’s most successful campaigner, almost as though that excuses everything.
Ignoring that there is precious little evidence to show his methods have adapted to the new methods of campaigning, I’m sorry one man, however successful, is not worth the resignations and the rapid demoralisation of hundreds more women and men in our party.
Without them, their energy, their commitment #Libdemfightback cannot happen.
They joined a party they thought would be liberal and democratic.
Transforming the Lib Dems, making us a female-friendly party is about more, much more, than our leader appointing women in reasonable numbers to his shadow team.
It means all of us, from the most senior to the newest member (particularly those Lib Dems that seek to represent others) living by the values we espouse.
Days ago I addressed an audience full of politically active women, many of whom voted Lib Dem at least once and have now joined the Greens, Labour and the Women’s Equality Party.
If you don’t think the Rennard affair affected their perception of our party? Maybe try to talking to one of them. Attempts to squash this debate internally are futile, if we allow those outside the party to draw their own conclusions that in the Lib Dems certain men are more equal than others.
When I woke up this morning I wondered if I could be bothered to go to Oldham on a Saturday in November to spend 7 hours on a train and £65 on the ticket, and then I thought no actually why should we punish the only woman on the ballot paper – our candidate – and all those other volunteers.
If we are going to change the culture in this party we are going to have to stick around and show that we are not going to take no for an answer but that doesn’t mean that we have to be silenced.
I am working hard to get elected as an MP in 2020, to kick the door down and keep it open for others to follow. My priority 2020-2030 will be to get more women elected at all levels and to ensure our next leadership election has women in it.