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’
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.’