No one should be making political capital out of what’s happening to the Lib Dems

by Ian Stewart

Over the past two years or so a succession of awful scandals have come to light regarding sex and politics. Julian Assange and the defence of him by George Galloway have hit Respect hard. Then the truly horrific parody of “justice” SWP style as regards the “Comrade X” affair, along with other long standing members, including possibly a late leading member, and the scandal in its German affiliate party.

Then the Liberal Democrats. First the list of allegations of abuse by the late Cyril Smith, going back decades finally saw the light of day – remember that only Private Eye had kept up any pressure to have these looked into in the national media – after all Sir Cyril was a national treasure. Now Lord Rennard faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour within party HQ.

There is a temptation within politics to use any and every bit of bad news to give our opponents a knock. Those of us who remember John Major and “Back to Basics” also remember various cabinet ministers subsequently being caught having affairs – much hilarity ensued as hypocrites were caught out. True enough, some lives and families were ruined, but they were Tory lives, so who cares eh? Lets face it, those scandals of the eighties and nineties seemed to fit the Profumo template that seemingly has no end – Tory bigwig playing away whilst promoting family values. A bit of slap and tickle for the tabloids. Of course as in so many things, New Labour triangulated itself into the mix after 1997.

The recent allegations levelled at Liberals and leftists are far more serious. We are talking about the abuse of power by older men perpetrated on younger women and in some cases boys. We are talking about the use of idealism and loyalty to a cause or a party to shut the victims up. In some cases, we are talking about bullying and rape. This should never in any way be used to make political capital.

When Julian Assange fled from allegations of rape in Sweden, too few on the left made the point that the real victims were probably the two women who went to the police. After Galloway made his infamous comments, this number grew, Salma Yaqoob and others left Galloway in disgust. Recently, other high-profile supporters of saint Julian have distanced themselves from him, although some, like Jemima Khan still seem ready to defend him in extremis.

Then there is the train wreck of the SWP. From various posts on leftwing blogs, it is clear that the cases of Comrade X and Comrade W are the tip of the iceberg. Former long standing members have posted details of alleged misconduct by the now dead editor of Socialist Worker, the kangaroo court proceedings of the current cases, and a complete disregard for “bourgeois” legality.

The disgusting attempts by the leadership of these trots to protect the accused from justice, and to bully young women is beneath contempt. Surely we, in a much more open party, with a commitment to women’s rights have no such skeletons in our cupboard?

The only reasoned answer is that we just do not know. The Lib Dems are also a fairly open and democratic party, yet the late Cyril Smith could carry on as he liked, seemingly unchallenged, perhaps with the wilful ignorance of officials and politicians of all parties in Rochdale. Lord Rennard was at least challenged, but if he did do what he was accused of, then he paid a very small price for it.

The truth is that in modern society, all organisations can develop a culture of loyalty that lets men get away with the hideous practices that we have been witnessing. To be sure, a small organisation that follows a near-cultish devotion to its ideology and its leadership can make things far, far worse, but this is not the case in the Lib Dems, a party that prides itself on its individualism. At a party over the weekend, several Labour women made the point that the behaviour of SWP leadership can in part be seen in many if not most large organisations.

The truth is that we as Labour members, as democratic socialists must be always on the side of the victims in these cases, and must remember that a cheap political point will not help anyone recover from the trauma and devastation of abuse, bullying and rape. Most cases of rape and sexual abuse still go unreported, of those that do many do not necessarily lead to conviction of the guilty or even come to court.

We need to be helping to create a culture of openness, a culture where women feel safe in standing up to men and feel that they will get not only a fair hearing, but also that the system will support them. Some of this may require new laws or more spending, but equally this means that men also have to stand up and grow up. We have to say that this behaviour is unacceptable in any situation. We need to break he culture of male silence that sweeps this criminality under the carpet. This means all of us, regardless of party loyalty. This is an issue that is far too important to be left to political partisanship.

Ian Stewart is a Labour party member and blogs at

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14 Responses to “No one should be making political capital out of what’s happening to the Lib Dems”

  1. swatantra says:

    As Frankie Howard used to say ‘ No, no missus, its wicked to mock the afflicted’
    But its great fun to see the high and mighty bite the dust and eat humble pie, particularly if they have been such pretentious so and so’s. To borrow a phrase there is ‘instiuttional corruption at the heart of our most of our established organisations.
    And that could be the very problem. Every now and then you have to clean out the stables and get rid of the old guard and bring in the new. You start from year zero. Not just a revolt but a revolution.
    As Pete and Atuls brilliant alternative history has shown things weren’t all that different in the Old Party and the same old people setting up different committees and appointnig themselves onto it and basically talking to themselves and pulling all the strings, under the guise of democracy.
    There should be a separation of powers ie The Party and The Political Representatives, each keeping a watch on the other. That is why we need an Elected Chair of the Party elected by members not an appointed ladog of the Leader. The job of the Party Machine would be to keep an eye on the Leaderhip MPs and Councillors and make sure they are not straying too much from our values and principles.
    Now if the Lib Dems had had that machinery in place they could have picked up people like Rennard and consigned him to the bin.

  2. paul barker says:

    Thanks for a sensible article, perhaps you could have a word with your comrades at “labour List” about their attitude.

  3. Ian Stewart says:

    @paul barker: I wish that I could! However, I would point you towards Emma Burnells excellent article on her Scarlet Standard blog. It makes points that I cannot – I am a man and therefore have a different experience of politics when it comes to sexism and exploitation…

  4. Ex-Labour says:

    So nobody should point out the hypocrisy and changing narritive from Clegg and his cronies – not for the first time it must be said.

  5. Ian Stewart says:

    @Ex-Labour: In this case, we should be pressing for a more open culture that supports the abused. Every mocking headline, every macho shout & heckle does absolutely nothing to make it any easier for victims to come forward.
    As Emma makes clear, no political party is immune from this kind of behaviour, just like the rat of society in fact. Once again, on this issue we all need to grow up and stand up.

  6. Your’e right ,no political party should make political capital out of this situation; but I think you will find that it is the Torie’s imho who are resorting to dirty tricks, of which we all know to our eternal cost, they are world class in that department.It’s surely no coincidence that the Mail and the Telegraph are the frontrunners on this issue either after or before Channel Four ran it on Thursday of last week, giveing it a week to register just in time for the by-election vote on Thursday.
    For me personally if Rennard is found to be a persistent sexual pest and to have been useing his position as C.E.O. of the Liberal/Democratic Party, then he deserves what’s coming to him, and any other man/woman of any political party, religous organisation , firm council, community organisation.
    But I do think that any victim of abuse should face rigourous questioning of why it took so long for them to come forward.
    Finally,I do think that it is poetic justice if these allegations are proven,given Rennards years of operating with gusto the gutter politics the Lib/Dems have participated in particularly at local level,plus the suspicion that he was the architect of the vicious campaign against Peter Tatchell in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election(anaccusation that he has always denied)

  7. Postageincluded says:

    Your argument seems to be “People in glass houses should open the windows before they throw stones”. As Emma says in her blog: “One depressing aspect of this story has been the Labour voices counselling we be quiet about the Lib Dem scandals as we don’t want to expose our own skeletons”. There doesn’t seem more than a fag-paper’s breadth between your position and the position that she explicitly rejects.

  8. david walsh says:

    Please do not overlook the role that RAP (Rochdale’s Alternative Press) played in the Cyril Smith affair – with the ever present risk of a libel writ from Smith, which would have been harder for a local left paper to deal with than for the public school boy based Eye.

  9. Paul J says:

    I’m rather more concerned with the Cyril Smith style allegations floating around than with some Libdem strategists wandering hands.

    There’s a massive scandal, or series of scandals bubbling under the MSMs’ direct gaze at the moment. That’s what we need to get to the bottom of. They make Assange or Back to Basics look like a polite picnic.

  10. Ian Stewart says:

    @Daid Walsh: Apologies, I should have paid tribute to RAP, as the Eye always does.

  11. Ian Stewart says:

    @postageincluded: No, what I am saying is that no one should use others suffering for political gain in these cases. I am pointing out that ALL parties have these problems, and that it is time we changed this situation across the board. Unless we change this culture, particularly male silence and complicity, we will never stop this happening.

  12. LesAbbey says:

    Does that mean we can’t mention Luke Bozier?

  13. Postageincluded says:

    @Ian Stewart

    Fair enough, I’m all in favour of everybody being nice. I don’t see why that precludes giving Clegg and his sanctimonious crew a good kicking when they deserve it. Which they do.

  14. Ian Stewart says:

    It is not about “being nice” – it is about making a start at ending a culture of sexual exploitation by the powerful. It happens in all parties, and many other organisations too. The issues involved here are support for the victims and ending the male silence that allows these men to get away with such disgusting things.
    By all means lay into little Nicky over the economy, the NHS, his lies before 2010, his insulting apologies etc. But try to remember that no political party in our system is immune from what may have occurred with Rennard. Indeed, there are some members of the Labour party who need to come clean about what they knew in Rochdale with Cyril Smith.
    This is not just some “bad news day” for Clegg, it is a hugely difficult day for those women who complained.

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