Helena Morrissey - Processes and culture of the Liberal Democrats

December 18, 2014 4:29 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

A progress report into the processes and cultures within the Liberal Democrats has been published by Helena Morrissey.

You can read the full progress report here.

Responding to the report, Party President Tim Farron, said:

"I very much welcome the report, and I'm pleased the party has made positive steps in the right direction. Helena Morrissey has undertaken a badly needed review that has already triggered important progress in our party.

"I have made the tackling of these issues a priority during my time as President but there is more we must do and so it's vital that Helena is still holding our feet to the fire, and ensures no one is complacent."

Party President Elect, Baroness Sal Brinton said:

"The Party has come a long way, but this report really highlights the steps we still need to take. As Party President, I'm committed to guiding the party on the rest of this journey. Tim Farron has done an excellent job to help us through the past few years, and I hope to build on his good work and ensure our party is open and diverse, and protects all of our members.

In her report overview, Helena Morrissey writes:

Considerable efforts have been made in a relatively short time, notwithstanding several new adverse revelations and complaints made since my original Report was published.

I am satisfied that there is real desire at the leadership level and at the Party's staff headquarters to improve the environment by making it more inclusive. The shock and embarrassment of last year's events and the lack of a satisfactory conclusion for anyone involved have been painful learning experiences. There is every motivation to try to prevent a recurrence of anything similar - and to resolve problems that do arise. A number of positive steps have been taken. In particular, as detailed below, the Party is attempting to establish high expected standards of behaviour, to clarify and implement better codes of conduct, grievance and complaints procedures and to adopt a more rigorous and timely disciplinary process.

The results of these efforts have yet to be widely felt, however, most notably in local and regional areas. I don't think this is just a matter of insufficient time passing to 'cascade' the changes: the Party's complex organisational structure is a significant impediment to broad progress. I recommend a post-election review and radical reform of this structure, which would have many potential benefits, including making the Party less vulnerable to individuals and groups not adopting best practices.

I am mindful of the upcoming General Election placing additional pressures on everyone involved with the Party, especially in light of its current poor polling. Those I interviewed recognise that these stresses may undermine efforts to improve. While it is impossible to completely safeguard against this, the Party leadership and management teams are alert to the risk. A new framework has been put in place to better manage volunteers, for example.

In this Report, I set out the specific steps taken and consider how effective they have been so far.

The experiences of implementing the recommendations have been edifying and I'd like to suggest some refinements and additional actions that could be taken, in the hope of ensuring progress continues to be made.

I have also incorporated some of the practical suggestions from members and staff made in response to the first Pastoral Care Survey.

The final section of this Report reviews other developments since my inquiry, lessons that may be learned from these and observations around some of the remaining problematic areas for the Party (as far as the issues I was originally asked to review are concerned).

There are (and always will be) particular difficulty in achieving 'closure' of disputes that result from intense human interaction, but it is still important to try.

Ultimately, if a resolution cannot be found through due process, someone may need to be the 'bigger person' and forgive the other individual. In both this review and my original inquiry, I have come across disputes where the level of animosity has become disproportionate to the alleged wrongs committed.

Even where the anger is justified, holding onto such a negative emotion is very destructive. It is, of course, very hard to forgive, not least because 'Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past' (Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield). We all cling onto the past, wishing things had played out differently when we are frustrated with the outcome. Nevertheless, embracing forgiveness can free and empower us, helping us attain peace and even to feel compassion towards the person who has caused our hurt or suffering.

Creating an environment where fewer disputes arise is clearly important to the Party. Creating a more inclusive environment, not only for women, but for other under-represented groups, including ethnic minorities, LGBT and disabled people, is another broader goal. This applies not just to the Liberal Democrats but to other parties as well.

More diversity in Westminster would be beneficial to our society, but remains an elusive aspiration.

The progress seen in the corporate world over the past few years in the UK, particularly around the advancement of women as a core business objective for many companies, gives grounds for optimism that similar progress may yet be achieved in politics.

An environment where everyone is treated with respect is a basic starting point if people from diverse backgrounds (not just more women) are to consider a political career. One encouraging development since my original Inquiry is that the House of Commons Respect Policy has been updated. The revised Policy is very clear about expected behavioural standards and gives examples of bullying and harassment. It sets out what people should do if they think they have been subject to bullying or harassment, including where to go for help and advice. A Staff Notice was published in July 2014 when the new Policy was introduced, which included information about a training and awareness session.

At the same time, a confidential 24 hour helpline was put in place for all Parliamentary staff to assist them with problems ranging from relationships at work or home, stress, debt, drugs or alcohol etc. This service is outsourced to Health Assured, an Employee Assistance Programme and Occupational Health specialist provider. All calls are treated in confidence between the individual and a counsellor.

These are helpful steps forward, particularly towards addressing the fear of recrimination that I have seen when reviewing the Liberal Democrats and which I am sure is experienced within the other parties, given the nature of the working relationships that can develop in the context of power.

I hope that this Report may motivate all to intensify efforts underway to stamp out discrimination, to modernise behaviours and working practices and so attract the diverse talent that we need in politics