Claims of sexual misconduct and an alleged cover-up inside the Liberal Democrats are a direct consequence of a lack of "high ranking women" within the party, according to a senior Lib Dem peer.
Baronesss Hussein-Ece said she believed "quite a few" more women "will come out of the woodwork" and that the investigation into the allegations made against the party's former chief executive, Lord Rennard, "must be turned over to police."
"The party has been too male and pale," she told the Huffington Post UK, noting how there are only seven women MPs out of a total of 56 - and no non-white MPs whatsoever.
Her party, she said, is too "male dominated" and the "culture has to change".
"The [male dominated] culture allows for these things to happen. There are aren’t sufficient checks and balances in place; there isn’t a sufficient number of high-ranking women in place to curb some of this behaviour."
Hussein-Ece said the decision by the Lib Dems' annual conference in 2001 to vote against all-women shortlists proved to be "disastrous". At the time, critics castigated the proposal as unnecessary and illiberal.
"What’s liberal about only 13 per cent of our parliamentary party being women?" Hussein-Ece told HuffPost UK. (Ironically, Jo Swinson - the Lib Dem minister who has been accused of "failing to act" on information about the alleged behaviour of Lord Rennard - led the charge inside the party against such shortlists.)
"I think institutionally we have a real problem," the peer said. "The party is just not diverse enough. We keep talking about diversity but nothing has really been achieved."
She also made a prediction that may alarm Lib Dem high command. "It’s a bit like the [Jimmy] Savile situation: I think more women – and I have heard of quite a few – will come out of the woodwork. This has to be thoroughly investigated. It's a criminal issue if a woman is inappropriately touched or harassed and these matters must be turned over to police."
But the peer - an ex-Labour councillor who joined the Lib Dems in 1997 - had a warning for her former party and for the Conservatives, too. "This is not going to be limited to the Lib Dems," she told HuffPost UK. "Let's be clear about that."
Lord Rennard continues to vehemently deny all of the allegations made against him.
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