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Estelle Cooch: Rennard and the culture of sexism

Estelle Cooch: Rennard and the culture of sexism

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Estelle Cooch writes on the Rennard scandal and its lessons for socialists
Estelle Cooch writes on the Rennard scandal and its lessons for socialists

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Published by: revolutionary socialism in the 21st century on Jan 22, 2014
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Estelle Cooch writes on the Rennard scandal and its lessons
The Liberal Democrat party inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against Lord Christopher Rennard – and how it ended – have been headline news for a week The inquiry found there was credible evidence of !behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants" #ut nevertheless$ it could not be established beyond reasonable doubt that Rennard had !intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way"%f course$ &ick Clegg faces leadership crises every other week #ut many commentators are billing this as his gravest crisis so far Let's recap how the scandal unfolded and then ask what it means for socialistsTwo women first raised complaints of inappropriate behaviour in ())* – long before the scandal broke in public They spoke to +aul #urstow ,+$ then the party's chief whip Clegg was challenged about this in -ebruary ()./ 0e said Rennard had !denied any wrongdoing" and that consequently he could take no further action 1n independent report has since concluded that Clegg should have ordered an inquiry at that point2very institution involved in what unfolded proved totally incapable of dealing with the claims adequately 1 police investigation started in 1pril ()./ only to conclude there was !insufficient evidence" This !insufficient evidence" included testimony from five women who agreed to waive their anonymity entirely$ along another six coming forwards otherwise 1 very public spat ensued Rennard was finally suspended from the Lib Dems for .3 weeks$ a penalty for refusing to apologise for !inadvertent distress" to the women involved
No surprises
4ocialists can draw several conclusions from all this The first is that nothing here should surprise us This is thelatest in a long list of establishment scandals that have broken in recent years5 Dominique 4trauss67ahn 8charges dropped9$ :immy 4avile 8died before allegations surfaced9 Consider also recent allegations against Dave Lee Travis$ the former ##C Radio %ne D: whose trial is ongoing ;n all these cases those at the top attempt to harass or coerce women They largely get away with it <hat is new is the fact it surfaces in public5 the stories that would once have remained private have hit the headlines – and thus provoked widespread serious debate about sexual harassment at work and at homeThe second conclusion concerns the police They continue to be entirely incapable of dealing with allegations of sexual offences The number of rape allegations handed to prosecutors in 2ngland and <ales hit a five6year low last %ctober$ despite a /)= rise in the number of rapes reported to police 1nother report that %ctober concluded that rape prosecutions were being seriously undermined by a !misplaced belief" that false accusations were commonplace 4tatistics suggest the rate of accusations even suspected of being false runs at less than > percentThe police response is much worse than inept$ of course %n many ?4 campuses the experience of women reporting sexual harassment to the police is traumatic enough to be described as !a second assault" They face disbelief$ lack of empathy and difficult bureaucratic procedures to navigate with little or no help

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