Let me begin by saying how proud we all ought to be of every single Liberal Youth member who got up on stage during our party’s recent conference. Each one of them, whether I agreed or not, had a lot of incredibly thoughtful points to make, and points this party ought to take heed of. Whether they were commenting on fracking, the economy, on cannabis or on electing diverse MPs, it should come as no surprise that it is these individuals who will likely be the future of this party.
That’s why it comes as such a surprise to me that this party continues to be as awful as ever when it comes to ageism towards its younger members. Year after year without fail, one can guarantee disrespect towards Liberal Youth’s members in one debate or other where we ought to abandon our principles, our evidence, and our opinions in favour of the aged and experienced. One young member, a civil engineer, was told pointedly during the fracking debate that his thoughtful contribution to the debate, laden with evidence though it was, ought to be ignored on the basis that he is “naïve” and “young”.
And, it gets worse. During the week-end’s most controversial debate concerning AWS and ADS, a number of young women went up on stage from both sides, recounting the numerous occasions on which women have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the party, and are told either to ignore the unwanted advances, or to simply stay away from them. “Oh, he’s fairly nice but watch out for him when he’s drunk”, young members are often told. Avoidance is not a solution to a problem that has largely been left alone by our party.
The cases are too numerous to retell in this article, but shockingly our story doesn’t end there. I am not surprised that women in the party are keen to remind Liberal Youth’s young women that their attitudes will change with age and experience, and that it is their youthful naivety which leads them to oppose AWS. They’re wrong of course, and in the process of being wrong serve only to remind young members that they will always face the patronising scorn of their elders, even in a party which saw a tremendous growth in young members last year. But, worse than this, there were cases of older women informing young members that they are plainly wrong about the sexual harassment in the party which these same young women have experienced.
Online, one tweet helpfully reminded the brave young women who went up on stage to talk about sexual harassment that they hadn’t in fact experienced true sexism in the party, hence why they found themselves opposing AWS.
I’m afraid to say that the young women who spoke in that debate know all too well the levels of sexism which pervade this party.
In short, I’m disgusted by our party after this conference. For all the leadership’s talk about taking young people seriously, of valuing us as full members of the party in our own right, nothing has been done to tackle the patronising disregard of young members’ views, and nothing continues to be done about the scornful contempt party staff have openly articulated towards Liberal Youth.
It’s clear from the young members I’ve spoken to that the Liberal Democrats must learn to love and accept its young members, or the party’s future and its lifeblood will look elsewhere for its representation.