In a very Lib Dem sex scan­dal, Vince Cable st af­fer is in­ves­ti­gated for try­ing to sleep with col­league he took to din­ner... to dis­cuss party’s ‘Brexit po­si­tion’

The Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Glen Owen PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

IT IS be­ing dubbed ‘Date-gate’ – a row within Sir Vince Cable’s Lib­eral Democrats about the bound­aries of ac­cept­able sex­ual be­hav­iour in the wake of the #MeToo move­ment.

A storm has erupted af­ter one of the party’s most se­nior ad­vis­ers was sub­jected to an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into claims that he had tried to sleep with a fe­male col­league un­der the pre­text of hold­ing a pol­icy meet­ing in a low-lit restau­rant.

The woman told party bosses that she agreed to go to din­ner with the aide on the grounds that he had said they were go­ing to dis­cuss ‘elec­toral strat­egy’ and ‘Brexit po­si­tion­ing’. How­ever, she said they barely touched on the is­sues – and com­plained that when the din­ner con­cluded, the aide asked her to sleep with him.

The man, whose iden­tity is known to The Mail on Sun­day, is sin­gle and in his 30s, while the woman is sev­eral years younger and ju­nior to him in the party hi­er­ar­chy. Pan­ick­ing Lib Dem bosses – con­scious of the ‘ Pest­min­ster’ storm which swept pol­i­tics last year – im­me­di­ately or­dered an i nde­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It con­cluded the man’s ac­tions did not con­sti­tute im­proper con­duct and that he should be al­lowed to keep his job.

It has led to a heated in­ter­nal de­bate over whether a for­mal ‘dat­ing code of con­duct’ should be drawn up to gov­ern the be­hav­iour of the pri­mar­ily young, un­mar­ried mem­bers of staff who fill most of the po­si­tions in the party.

While many of Mr Cable’s fe­male staffers have ex­pressed dis­quiet about the de­ci­sion, friends of the aide say that he has been vic­timised for car­ry­ing out ‘nor­mal dat­ing be­hav­iour’. One said: ‘The main is­sue seems to be that she didn’t fancy him. If he had been [ac­tor] Ryan Gosling, I sus­pect it would have been a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

‘He didn’t pre­tend that it was a purely work meet­ing – it was semiso­cial. He didn’t make any phys­i­cal ad­vances, nor did he do any­thing daft such as im­ply that she would lose her job if she did not com­ply. If you ask me, she just thought he was try­ing to punch above his weight.’

How­ever, a friend of the woman claimed that the aide’s be­hav­iour was part of a ‘pat­tern’ and that a sec­ond woman had given ev­i­dence to the in­quiry claim­ing that he had tried a sim­i­lar tac­tic with her.

The al­ready thorny is­sue of work­place re­la­tion­ships at West­min­ster has be­come even more highly charged since the Pest­min­ster scan­dal erupted in the wake of the Har­vey We­in­stein sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions in Hol­ly­wood and the sub­se­quent rise of the # MeToo move­ment. The pub­li­ca­tion of a redacted spread­sheet al­leg­ing var­i­ous sex­ual im­pro­pri­eties by 36 in­di­vid­ual MPs cre­ated a feed­ing frenzy which led to the res­ig­na­tion of De­fence Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon over his­toric ac­cu­sa­tions of lung­ing at a jour­nal­ist.

The Com­mons has ac­knowl­edged an ‘in­sti­tu­tional fail­ure’ to tackle ha­rass­ment by MPs, and has set up a new in­quiry specif­i­cally into how MPs treat staff di­rectly un­der their con­trol. But it does not cover the staffing of po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Many pri­vate com­pa­nies have in­tro­duced bans on work­place re­la­tion­ships in the wake of #MeToo.

A Lib Dem spokesman said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had found no ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing, adding: ‘All al­le­ga­tions are taken se­ri­ously. We en­deav­our to of­fer staff train­ing to pro­mote ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour and to pro­vide sup­port to any­one wish­ing to make a com­plaint.’

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