I have to say that I am incandescent with rage at a profile of the only Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder which has appeared in the New Statesman. The implied conclusion of both the journalist and the several Liberal Democrat sources quoted seems to be that Catherine is a lightweight who needs the back-up of a group of men. She’s criticised for not pursuing their agendas and her own concerns, on massive issues like wildlife and human trafficking are dismissed by the journalist as pet projects. Yes, that’s right, protecting vulnerable people from the brutal exploitation of modern slavery somehow is a niche issue? Not in my world.
The thing is, despite the drip-drip of patronising criticism that comes through the article Catherine comes out of it really well. What I get is an impression of a politician who, heaven forfend, is well-connected to her constituency and the people she represents. Heaven forfend! It’s hard to do that across a single UK Parliamentary seat. Across a region? That’s more challenging and Catherine does it well. That is just as important as legislative achievement.
Dave Keating, the journalist laments that the lack of political heavyweights:
The Liberal Democrats lost their Brussels heavyweights like Graham Watson, Andrew Duff and Ed McMillan-Scott.
They’re all very heavyweight for sure, but so are some of the other MPs who contributed a massive amount to the Parliament and were incredibly highly respected. He doesn’t seem to have noticed Sarah Ludford, Sharon Bowles who actually chaired the Parliament’s Economic Committee and Fiona Hall who actually led the UK Lib Dem delegation. As Ludford herself noted on Twitter:
— Sarah Ludford (@SarahLudford) July 1, 2015
As if the journalist isn’t bad enough, here’s what a Liberal Democrat source has to say:
This has led to some tension between Bearder and the Liberal Democrat machine in Brussels. They want her to focus on the big issues, but she wants to spend more time on wildlife conservation.
“A lot of us are helping her out on a voluntary basis, not just her staff at the Parliament,” says one Liberal Democrat who works outside the Parliament in Brussels. “She’s only one person and she can’t do everything…but there are people who want her to focus more on the big issues.”
How utterly patronising! Let’s just have a look at some of the issues she’s been working on. Well, first of all, there’s that trivial matter of the air that we breathe. I mean, that’s not fundamental to every human being on the planet. Here Catherine writes about what she’s doing to save the lives of a number of people equivalent to half the size of the large town where I live.
She also had a successful campaign,with the Sunday Mirror, to have wildlife crime properly tackled. Not only that but she set up the group MEPs for Wildlife, a cross party group of MEPs working with NGOs to find ways to tackle wildlife crime.
And later this year, she’ll be working to ensure minimum rights for victims of human trafficking. Ending human suffering and acting to stop the wipe-out of an entire species is important. That may not suit the agenda of some of her former colleagues but it’s a pretty good record of achievement as far as I can see. When there’s only one of her, I think she should concentrate on the issues she wants to and not let her former colleagues dictate to her what she should be doing.
Apparently her record isn’t good enough for some, as this Liberal Democrat source rather sniffily complains:
“That’s the world we live in,” notes one former Liberal Democrat official. “The other MEPs got a lot done in the European Parliament, but Catherine has always been very good at local politics and she was in her constituency often. That’s where she excels, she’s very personable. But it seems that the more successful work you do in Brussels and Strasbourg, the less likely you are to be re-elected.”
Ah, so she’s not doing successful work or getting noticed in the European Parliament. Really? She was recently picked as one of 8 MEPs to watch (and the only woman) when it came to the debate on Britain’s future role in Europe.
Another factor that seriously annoys me is that mention is made of her age, and concern is expressed that she might not have the stamina for the job, but no mentions is made that her venerated former colleagues are remarkably similar in age. Edward McMillan-Scott is just 7 months and a day younger, Andrew Duff is just under 2 years younger and Graham Watson 7 years younger. Men are allowed to get older, it seems, but women aren’t.
I have an novel suggestion for every Liberal Democrat in the Brussels Bubble (and everywhere else). How about just not undermining your colleagues to the press? It’s really frustrating when people are undermined in this way and I can’t for the life of me see what good it does.
The other day, at a diversity hustings in Glasgow, I asked both leadership candidates how they would tackle the sort of “everyday sexism” that we see in the party. They both gave good answers, but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. It’s not about disciplinary processes, it’s about the culture of the party which I believe is no more sexist than wider society, but should be much less so if we really do believe in equality. This unpleasant article is an example of the sexist attitudes that need to be tackled head on.
This article first appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice