Happy Birthday: on their 25th anniversary the Liberal Democrats face their worse crisis yet

rennard_2490087aDid you know it’s the Liberal Democrats’ 25th birthday today?

And what a couple of weeks it’s been to celebrate such a milestone with the Liberal Democrats facing what is easily their worse crisis of recent memory.

During the dark days of the first tuition fees protests, it seemed the Liberal Democrats could sink no lower. And yet, they have managed it.

The Lord Rennard scandal and the Chris Huhne perversion of justice sentence that proceeded it have made the Liberal Democrats seem like everything they had despise in previous Labour and Tory governments.

Lying, sexism, even criminality were perceived as acts of politicians corrupted by power they, as the perennial opposition, were supposedly above. They were supposed to be the voice of level headed reason and human decency. They were the people who entered politics out of a sense of duty, not a megalomaniacal or narcissistic desire for power and influence.

Lord Rennard is hardly the first politician to become embroiled in sexual impropriety claims, Westminster is after all notoriously sexist. His fellow Lib Dem, Mike Hancock is currently being sued by a constituent over claims of sexual impropriety. The stories of sexual harassment floating around Westminster are legend and I can definitely think of a few ‘honourable’ members from other parties guilty of similar crimes.

But the ongoing abuse of power in the party exposed this week is particularly damaging to the Liberal Democrats because it is the final nail in the coffin for the idea they’ve been above it all for the past 25 years.

Examples like the nasty, homophobic by-election campaign of Simon Hughes in Bermondsey in 1983 back when they were still the Liberals, Mark Oaten’s fondness for rent boys back in 2006 and the ongoing saga of Chris Huhne’s legal troubles show they’ve never been perfect.But this scandal is in a different league as it shows the failing are institutional rather than a few bad apples.

And let’s face it, back when they were the third party no-one really noticed what they got up to, now they’re in government they need to get their act together.

But this scandal goes all the way up to top and it is hard to see how Nick Clegg is going to wriggle out of this one. For all his brief popularity during the last election Clegg has proven he isn’t capable of wiping off the misdeeds of his party as previous ‘Teflon’ leaders like Blair and Cameron have done.

The drip drip revelation of Clegg’s part in brushing the outrageous abuse of power by Lord Rennard under the carpet have shown that however personally progressive his values are, he is either unable or unwilling to tackle the caveman style mistreatment of women in his party.

A leader with such a loose grip on power (or indeed the plot) is dangerous with only two years to go to what may be the toughest general election they will ever face.

In spite of all this Clegg will still probably get a stay of execution until after 6th May 2015. Now his main rival has been defeated and the Eastleigh by-election was won with the smart decision to field an unassuming, local candidate who is unlikely to say anything stupid, no-one will want to rock the boat too much.

No-one wants to become the captain of a sinking ship but with his authority compromised Clegg will only just be able to keep his party together in the run up to the election. Not unlike Gordon Brown’s fate after the snap election that wasn’t in 2007. Most of the Liberal Democrats I seem to talk to, appear to be looking forward to escaping government and reclaiming their comfortable seat on the backbenches where they feel they belong.

Rachel Sylvester wrote in the Times this week (£) the Liberal Democrats weren’t ready for government. She said they had spent so long in opposition being ignored they cannot face up to the scrutiny and disappointment of government. Back in 2009 when Rennard was quietly moved on it seemed like the most practical way to avoid a scandal but in the days of new government accountability, people are angry enough to see yellow heads roll.

The Liberal Democrats have made it to their Silver Jubilee but if they seriously want to make to their Golden one they need to get to grips with the nature of power.

They need to learn they can’t act like progressive champions of women’s rights and let “octopus” tentacles slither up their female members’ legs. They need to learn how to fight a by-election as simultaneously the party of local people and the party of government. They need to learn when to make tactical withdrawals and become a party which can take a firm stance on issues without making promises it can’t keep.

Most of all they just need to learn to act like a modern, dynamic socially progressive of the twentieth first century not the hypocritical, middle class guilt party of the twentieth.

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Emmeline Pankhurst Judges You

Note: This a rather more tongue in cheek, ‘Catlin Moran capitalise RANDOM words style’ of blog post than this blog is used to I’m afraid. It was going to be published on my personal blog but this blog has more of a following and the message is important. Additionally, I’m writing this on the fly in the midst of exam revision and such the blog will not be updating in its professional, journalistic fashion- or perhaps at all- for another couple of weeks.

WWEPD? What Would Emmeline Pankhurst Do?

If you have two X chromosomes and live in Britain you should really go vote today.

People who don’t tend to annoy me. Its all ‘they’re all the same’, ‘they never live up to their promises’, blah blah blah. Women who don’t vote annoy me even more.

There is something about the combination of politics and women that modern society is so keen to portray as unsexy. It may be that each female cabinet ministers are given marks out of ten for their wardrobe when entering Number 10 (and never very high ones at that) where in contrast editors wouldn’t dream of grading male members on such trivial matters when they are busy running the country and so forth (making the assumption that women MPs’ sole function in cabinet meetings is to sit in the corner and make tea). It could also be that such trivialities as taking part in the democratic process takes too much time away from
women’s busy schedule scrutinising the ways to be better in bed and make their hair shiner in women’s magazines so one day they can trick a man into marrying them, paying for that lobotomy and granting them eternal, mindless bliss.

However, as I’m sure you vaguely heard in the back of that History lesson when you were 14 and passing notes about whether the boy in your French class fancies you, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under a horse she was so annoyed about not being allowed to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst, who was ALREADY A MARRIED LADY, campaigned for most of her life along with her daughters to get the vote. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem argue, journalised and campaign to get women equal pay. Germaine Greer is still breaking taboos to get women equally respect in the bedroom.

Its important. By not voting you are giving the patriarchy an excuse to ignore you. We have fought for over a hundred of years for the right to smack any man that pats us on the head and says ‘Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head About It’, lets not give up the advantage now.

WWEWDD? What Would Emily Wilding Davison Do?

A lot of the apathy surrounding elections is based on the assumption that elections are for electing new leaders. As the last General Election and its hung parliament proved, this is a silly assumption. Whilst we still have hierarchy, barriers to social mobility and inequality the goals of an election have to be different. The purpose of an election now is not to make a new political establishment out of the mob, its to make the political establishment fear the mob.

For instance if there is a large number of females voting, politicians are going to want to act like they speak for us and thus we get stuff. If we start getting vocal about the stuff we actually want, politicians will stop pandering and give us more than just ‘making it cheaper to get married and have babies’ the way the current coalition are.

During the heady days of the Third Wave Feminist movement, the sight of angry young women pounding the pavements of Britain to demand equal rights lead to the Abortion Act, the Equal Pay Act and a hold host more legal safeguards against discrimination. Had we not had the power, or exercised that power, to get rid of them in a public vote every few years they would never had bothered.

The only power patriarchy holds in a modern, democratic system is the power we give them. Apathy is not a protest vote. Its a signal that you don’t believe your opinion matters. Why would a politician work to provide for someone who would never vote for them? It would be politically counter-intuitive.

What do you do if an authority won’t listen to you? Shout louder, stamp your feet, take away their power over you but don’t just storm off in a sulk.

If you are genuinely undecided then spoil your vote. Give the weary, sameness of the main political parties and the naivety, occasional stupidity and some malevolence of the fringes it is easily to be lost for an cross in a box. I would strongly advocate the adoption of ‘None of the Above’ option on the ballot paper as I believe is custom in Australia. However in the meantime, writing it on yourself is the best option.

Its time the women of Britain, and all over the world, stop complaining about patriarchal tools of suppression and started taking them away from them. So when you go to the ballot box today, proudly declare by any means of your choosing; on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, randomly shouting it in the street. You don’t have to say how you voted just that you did and shame those who didn’t with the hastag denouncement: #emmelinepankhurstjudgesyou.

I think she would be proud if you do.