Sunday, 19 January 2014

Lorely Burt's views on Chris Rennard

*Lorely has since clarified her views, and states that she believes that Rennard should apologise before taking his seat in the Lords. A slight alteration from we comments on Friday, and a very welcome one indeed.

I had to think long and hard about blogging about this, because clearly things have gotten really heated - not surprising really because it's a really serious issue. I wouldn't have blogged, because I don't think another talking head on this issue is particularly helpful, but I had dinner with Lorely Burt MP on Friday night, and her reaction to some of our questions was really interesting.

As part of the LGA's 'Next Generation' programme, Lorely joined us for dinner on Friday night. I need to caveat everything, with the fact that she was ultimately a really nice person and it sounds as though she does a great job as MP for Solihull. After dinner was finished, we had the chance to ask her some questions, and the key one for me was what she thought about the Chris Rennard issue, considering she's pretty likely to be our next Deputy Leader in the House. After discussing the issue with a colleague, we decided to ask.

She said that she felt really uncomfortable talking about it - exactly what I'd expected her to say - but then she said that she was very close to him and that she felt that Lord Rennard had been treated incredibly badly. This was the bit I didn't understand. First, she could have not said anything, and nobody would have pressed her, and second, Lord Rennard has been through a party process. I don't think he's been treated badly, in fact, I think there are a whole lot of people who have been treated badly, and he isn't one of them.

The concern for me, is that a lot of people are throwing their lot in with Lorely's campaign for Deputy Leadership, because, as she's said herself, she wants to make history as a female deputy leader. That really appealed to me, because I emphatically believe that our party needs a culture change from the top down. This whole sorry mess has been created by the fact that we haven't had high enough standards, and we haven't had proper processes to protect people (not just women, either). For people supporting her on those grounds, I'm sorry, but I question it. If we need culture change, we also need somebody in this position who won't be influenced by who their friends are. For me, we need somebody there who will break up the status quo.

It seems clear that part of the problem with the entire Rennard issue, is that one man was allowed to get into a position of such incredible power. What this means, I'd argue, is that a large number of people won't have a bad word said against Chris Rennard, because they owe their careers to him. There's a nasty feeling of closing ranks. To me, what matters more is the fact that we have a group of women who have already had, and may still have incredibly successful political careers within our party, they deserve justice.

So, I'd ask that Lorely Burt clarifies exactly what her thoughts are on the Rennard issue, because it's of material importance. Of course, we don't get a vote, but I think it's important that people know the truth. Lorely shouldn't be seen badly because of association - I'm not suggesting that - but party members and the brave women involved deserve to know exactly what her thoughts are, whether she agrees with Nick and what our party needs to do to move on from this horror.

* I also had to consider whether I should post this because it was a comment made over dinner, but on reflection, it was a comment made in front of a pretty large part of people that she'd never met before, and thus I don't consider it a private conversation.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Why I'm no longer the PPC for North East Somerset

There's a part of me that is already smiling at the people from other parties who might have clicked this for some gossip. There's been an internal falling out in the LibDems? I've been caught speeding? Niet. 

The truth isn't nearly as interesting, nor would it get reported in the Daily Mail. Regular readers (yes, all three of you!) will know that I've been battling depression for some time now. I don't write about it all the time, because I don't think it's that interesting, but it's the truth. With the help of my therapist, I've come to realise a lot of the things that I've always done that have led to me feeling desperately unhappy and I've been able to do something about them. One of those things, is the habit of repeatedly overloading myself. Partly, it's because my parents didn't have all the opportunities I've had and so I've been raised to grasp every chance I get. Partly, it's because when you're feeling so desperately sad inside about who you are, or what your life is, you constantly look for ways to improve things or progress things without thinking of the important detail. 

All of these things aligned some time ago when I realised that I was a District Councillor, County Councillor, School Governor, part-time office worker, full-time student and that I was considering running for selection for a Parliamentary seat. Now, to the average Joe, that's a nightmare, but somewhere in my mind, it was all great - I was going places. Of course, what's easy to see in hindsight is that I wasn't going anywhere and in fact, I was actually making myself more unwell. 

So, before Christmas, I decided to take two months leave from the County Council so that I could take some time to get myself together and try and understand what I actually wanted and had time to do. I only took leave from the County, because I didn't want to drop everything entirely. This news was received well, largely, from all areas. I had Conservative Councillors approaching me to check on how I was doing and wishing me well, and I had people contacting me that I didn't even know, just to offer me support. I often think it's just when things seem darkest that the nicest things happen and I feel incredibly well cared for. 

Of course, what all this led to was actually something very difficult. The slow realisation that I couldn't physically or practically continue with all the things I was doing without somehow splitting myself in two, or trying to hire a body double. The logic I used in the end was very simple. I need to be around for the people who have already voted for me, before I worry about trying to convince anybody else. What's so difficult about that, is that stepping back from my role in North East Somerset also meant stepping away from some incredibly special friends I've made there, and accepting that I won't play the same role on the journey. 

For anybody from the other parties in NES, snooping here for gossip - I'll let you have it. You have your work cut out for you. That's it and all there is about it. Our people there are so passionate, so committed to their communities, that you're going to have to get up early to beat them, and that's a good thing. People like my friend Cllr Simon Allen in Radstock, who care about their towns and villages above all else, are exactly the reason that some kind of planned LibDem wipeout isn't likely to happen. They are proud and brilliant public servants, and I'll be there in some capacity making sure they're still around in eighteen months time. 

So, there it is. No scandal, no drama. I'm still a LibDem, at some point I might try and run for Parliament again, because I love a good barney and because I think people deserve to have their voices heard. I'll be away again until the start of Feb, because that's when I return to public work at the County Council, but boy, just you wait til I'm back, because I'm raring to go. 

Thanks again for the support I've received, y'all are just too nice.