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Mike Hancock: A constituent has accused the Portsmouth MP of “upsetting sexual treatment” and feels let down by Nick Clegg

Shirley Williams was right. In 2001 she accused her party, the Liberal Democrats, of writing the "second longest suicide note in history" after it rejected positive discrimination in favour of women MPs.

The debate at the party's annual conference was fierce and polarised. Williams raised hackles when she said the Lib Dems would appear "profoundly backward" unless they addressed the gender imbalance in the party. She lost. Delegates overwhelmingly rejected all-women shortlists and other moves that would have ensured only women were selected in seats where the sitting Lib Dem MP was standing down, and instead opted for a "target" of 40 per cent women candidates in winnable seats. 

Today, both the Tories and Labour have proportionately more women MPs than the Lib Dems. There are currently only seven female members (12.2 per cent) in the parliamentary party, which prides itself on being the most "female-friendly" in Westminster. That compares to 33.4 per cent for Labour and 15.7 per cent for the Conservatives. 

The lack of women in senior posts, coupled with an "anything goes" approach towards sexual behaviour, has left the party open to accusations of sexism, sleaze and salacious behaviour.

From the Jeremy Thorpe trial in 1978, in which the former Liberal leader was accused and acquitted of conspiring to murder a former lover, Norman Scott, to the activities of former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith, whom police now admit ought to have been prosecuted for abusing boys in local children's homes, the Lib Dems have proved to be the party of sexual scandal. 

The recent cases of Lord Rennard, the party's former chief executive, who is under investigation by Scotland Yard, accused by several women of sexual misconduct, and Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South and a Portsmouth city councillor, who is being investigated by the Chief Whip about allegations of sexual impropriety by a female constituent, have left a stain on the party's reputation. 

Dr Elizabeth Evans, lecturer in politics at the University of Bristol and author of the book Gender and the Liberal Democrats (Manchester University Press, 2011), believes that the Lib Dem approach does not take into account the inequality between men and women and has little or no gender analysis.

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May 30th, 2013
11:05 AM
This is shocking, appalling, and demands widespread attention. Thank you for unearthing Julie. Lib Dems: take note.

scotchling Anonymous
May 30th, 2013
10:05 AM
A really excellent article - liberal - always has a veneer of being nice and reasonable and fair - but in reality - same as the whole free speech stuff and same as market forces/individualism/neo liberalism in that it doesn't take account of and proactively engage with challenging pre-existing inequalities in society so simply exacerbates adn replicates them

May 29th, 2013
5:05 PM
Wow, that's the best Lib Dem election manifesto I've ever read!

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