This is a post that I should have written long ago.
About a month or so back, I posted a link to an xkcd cartoon. It was inspired by an incident around that I was going to write about. However every time I tried to write the article another incident came back to my mind, and threatened to swamp the piece I was trying to write. It’s obviously something I need to get out of my system. I keep alluding to this incident time and time again, so I think it’s time I got this off my chest.
I’m going back ten years now. I was a member of an association within the Liberal Democrats aimed at improving the use of information technology and the internet. A key committee member of this group was a problem. The person would respond to any perceived slight against people who lacked IT skills with a level of aggression that was totally inappropriate and out of proportion to what he was responding to. In addition he would be incredibly snide about technically skilled people, seemingly thinking clever people needed taking down a peg or two. I put up with it for a while, but the constant sniping got too much.
Firstly, I tried politeness. I sent a kind and friendly email, pointing out that he was being a bit over the top. I received an unexpected response, “Are you always this nasty”. Shocked that my tone had been so badly misinterpreted, I pointed out, that no, I wasn’t being nasty, I was trying to be helpful. More aggression. I called him publicly on the group mailing list over his behaviour. I was threatened with legal action for standing up to him!
I tried to address the problems directly by writing a philosophical article addressing people’s perspectives toward technology. This was met with public aggression and my conduct was falsely described as abusive.
So I wrote to the chairman of the group, expressing my concerns about the culture of aggression, and disrespect. And was ignored. Friends and acquaintances promised that the problematic behaviour that I was concerned about would be brought up at the next committee meeting. However I never found out if this happened or what action, if any, was taken. I tried to find if there was a complaints procedure for low-level bullying within the Liberal Democrats. There wasn’t.
By now I had a thing about low-level online bullying. I championed the case of a slightly autistic acquaintance who was being given a bad time on a private members forum. Again, the mods I messaged didn’t even acknowledge that I’d contacted them or reassure me that they were on the case.
Things have, thankfully, changed. The Liberal Democrats have introduced new codes of conduct. Not because of me, or anything I have written about here, I hasten to add, but because of more serious incidents of an altogether different nature that have come to light. While the seriousness and the nature of these incidents and complaints was far different to what I was dealing with, the new code of conduct is broad enough to define the sorts of things that I, and those I stood up for, as unacceptable. It also makes it clear that complaints and concerns like mine should not have been simply ignored.
Was the behaviour I stood up to that serious? No, not really. But even though the problem behaviour I experienced wasn’t a serious, it was a real and genuine problem, and I was right to stand up to it. While it was ultimately futile, and has remained with me for far too long, I remain proud of taking a stand.
I had intended this to be “getting the issue out of my system” and to an extent it has. This week I have refreshed my safeguarding training with the Scout Association, and was pleased to see their robust policies regarding bullying. It also confirmed that the behaviours I highlighted in the Lib Dems back in 2005 that went unacknowledged do constitute bullying, at least according to the definitions uses by the Scout Association.
I missed this last night for various reasons, not least of which was the fact I hadn’t gone to Brighton for the conference. But on the today programme this morning I caught it, and an interview with Stephen Tall, the winner, and Iain Dale, an ex-bookseller from Norfolk who the BBC seem to think is something big in political blogging. Iain did make a good joke about Tom Watson though, so he can’t be that bad.
Strangely enough he seems to think I’m something in Lib Dem blogging as he’s ranked me 59th out of the top 100 Lib Dem bloggers, which given my recent lack of activity on the political front is both strange and flattering.
Yesterday I also missed the LDO AGM, which is a shame as I may have motivated me to stand for the exec, or at least speak at the meeting. However I probably would not have been able to do much to justify the position, given my commitments outside the party.