Want a political career? I warn you not to be a woman

I’m crying and I feel sick.

The Lib Dems are not my party. So why is my reaction to them letting Chris Rennard off the hook so strong?

It is quite clear from the statement from the internal investigator that the witnesses who came forward are considered credible. In fact he has called on Lord Rennard to apologise. In his statement, Rennard does no such thing. In fact he looks forward to “resuming [his] roles within the Liberal Democrats.” I’m not sure those credible witnesses feel the same way. In fact, one of the women who made a complaint has accused the party of cowardice.

This is a dreadfully confused response. If Rennard had truly done nothing wrong, why would he be asked to apologise? If he has, why is no action being taken? It seems that the Lib Dems response is largely down to woefully inadequate internal disciplinary processes.

Many Lib Dem women have – quite rightly – reacted furiously. So have many of us who are not Lib Dems and never will be. Because this is our problem too.

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As I have written before, the Rennard situation is just one aspect of the culture that surrounds w0men in politics. All too often we are expected to understand that our role is little more than to be sexual fodder for men more powerful and important than we have a right to expect to be. That we are “fair game”. That we should not complain about sexual assaults, unwanted sexual attention and innuendo. To ignore the fact that we are made to feel deeply and permanently uncomfortable with the culture we are forced to exist in but must never complain about for fear of us damaging our careers or reputation for camaraderie. To shut up “for the good of the Party”.

From the SWP to the Lib Dems this has been the message of the leadership filtered down through everyone who believes that the Party exists to do good in the world and so feel themselves horribly conflicted when they are let down by the very organisation they choose to champion.

Lord Rennard is mostly the Lib Dems’ problem. He’ll now sit again under their whip for the rest of his life in the House of Lords. Whether he is forced to apologise and whether he is allowed to regain party positions will be a decision for them internally (it is currently being strongly, but anonymously suggested that this will not happen).

But all parties must be honest with ourselves and accept that the culture that allows and normalises this kind of behaviour exist across Westminster. It is this culture that needs to change and that Labour must now take a lead in challenging both within our own ranks and in the wider Westminster world. We owe it to the women who might be our future fantastic leaders, but who can’t currently imagine anything worse than a career in politics. We owe it to the girls who need role models to look up to. We owe it to the boys who also deserve to live in a better world.

Sadly, today’s lesson is: don’t be a woman in politics and expect not to be find yourself being made to feel like someone’s sexual prey. It is up to all of us to make sure that tomorrow’s lesson is very, very different.

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