Nick Clegg’s decision not to reshuffle his Liberal Democrat ministers before the general election – and thereby finally promote a woman to the Cabinet – has been criticised by a leading candidate for the party presidency.
Daisy Cooper last night urged Mr Clegg to rethink his decision. She is one of three candidates, all women, to succeed Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, to one of the party’s most powerful positions.
Earlier rumours that Jo Swinson, the consumer affairs minister, could replace the Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, by the end of the year were ruled out last week when a party spokesman said the ministerial team would remain unchanged in the final months of this parliament.
Liberal Democrat Women, a party campaign group, is calling on Mr Clegg to promote at least one female to his front-rank team, with Baroness Kramer, a transport minister, floated as one of the suitable options. Alice Thomas, the group’s youth liaison officer, wrote on the Liberal Democrat Voice weblog that Mr Clegg’s decision “is not enough to make me shrug my shoulders and declare the fight lost because this is too important”. Ms Cooper added that promoting a woman “would send a strong message that we’re a serious party” and also tweeted that Mr Clegg should “listen up”.
The Lib Dems have been unsuccessful in promoting gender equality in Parliament, with just seven women among 56 MPs, none of whom has been given a position in the Cabinet since the coalition came to power four years ago. Gender has also become a particularly sensitive issue for the Lib Dems in the wake of the Lord Rennard scandal, the party strategist who was accused by four women of sexual impropriety.
The peer, who strongly denied the allegations, offered a carefully worded apology to the women earlier this year, acknowledging that he “may well have encroached upon personal space”. Three of the four women who made the claims called for him to be expelled from the party. A major controversy surrounded the key investigation, led by Alistair Webster QC, which concluded that under party rules the burden of proof had to meet criminal law standards – and Mr Webster felt Lord Rennard’s guilt could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Later, his accusers quit in disgust over the way the party’s investigation and disciplinary process was handled.
Ms Cooper said, if she wins the maximum of two terms, that by the end of her presidency she would have hoped to have “done enough to change the party for them to rejoin”. The former parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal would hire a head of human resources to help guide the Lib Dems through any similar circumstances in the future.
She would also insist that every member of the party would be duty-bound to intervene or report any instances they witnessed of inappropriate behaviour. “That would nip this in the bud,” said Ms Cooper, who is standing against the former Lib Dem MP Liz Lynne and Baroness Brinton. “That transfers the burden from the victim and makes every single member of the party accountable.”