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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Always best to deal with matters as they happen

The poor old Lib Dems sure seem to be having awful trouble with their womenfolk lately.

As if the Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce business of swapped points making no prizes weren’t enough of a messy humiliation, now Nick Clegg is accused of covering up alleged inappropriate behaviour towards women of the party’s ex-chief executive Lord Rennard... charges both men vehemently deny.

Mr Clegg said he’d been aware only of "indirect and non-specific concerns" about the peer's conduct, some time during 2008.

Not such a clear statement of personal responsibility as was his tuneful apology for broken promises.

And it isn’t likely to dampen gossips’ enthusiasm for circulating their own theories – but hey, it’s a start.

“Yeah well...” one cynic observed. “The Lib Dems always did have problems with boundaries.”

Another added his own take: “What do these women expect? Isn’t the clue in the title – ‘Liberal’?”

And you have to wonder whether there isn’t a grain of truth (though only a tiny grain) in both standpoints on both embarrassments now ruffling party feathers.

When allegations of sexual impropriety were made by four women against Lord Rennard – incidents supposedly spanning several years from 2003 – I couldn’t have been the only woman used to working with men, to wonder what on earth had taken them so long.

They weren’t, after all, claiming to be children drawn into the lair of a Jimmy Savile- type character. Adult opportunity for making their cases had been there for a long time.

Whether or not what they claimed had happened had taken place, whether or not initial complaints had been met with immediate satisfaction, did they not feel it necessary to make a serious and prolonged noise closer to the time of the alleged harassment?

Two women said Lord Rennard had abused his position by inappropriately touching and propositioning them. One said she had spoken to two senior party figures, but no action had been taken. More women have since added their voices to the chorus.

Women have the processes they need at their disposal, if they feel they are being harrassed, bullied, fondled or propositioned at work. If the processes fail them, they have a duty to shout up and let people know – when it matters, not five or 10 years later.

While no one should have any sympathy with men who abuse their position to make female colleagues feel threatened, it’s hard to understand the thinking of grown women who make complaints in outrage and then fail to see them through.

There’s a duty in every workplace to observe decent standards of behaviour.

But it allows no room for storing up accusations for use when it suits, years after the alleged events.

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