Nick Clegg arrives at the BBC studios ahead of his second debate with Nigel Farage over EU membership on April 02, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour demands investigation into Clegg's special adviser Ryan Coetzee

Party writes to Jeremy Heywood asking whether Coetzee's involvement in Lib Dem election strategy has breached the special advisers' code of conduct.

After previously gunning for the Conservatives' election campaign chief Lynton Crosby over his links to the tobacco industry, Labour has found a new target in the form of Nick Clegg's director of strategy Ryan Coetzee. The former South African MP, who took up the post in September 2012, is often compared with Crosby but unlike him is paid entirely from the public purse (earning £110,000 a year). It is this that Labour has taken issue with, noting his involvement in Liberal Democrat election strategy and private polling for the party. The special advisers' code of conduct states that "special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity".

Clegg said at his monthly press conference yesterday: "We’ve done it by the book and it’s not unusual for politicians in government to get support on what are the main concerns of the British public and how can we address them in government. That’s exactly what we’re doing."

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "A key part of his role as director of strategy is to ensure that all government messaging strictly reflects the Lib Dems and Lib Dem priorities. He is a special adviser so he is paid out of public funds. The salaries are all transparent and published on the internet."

But those answers haven't satisfied Labour with MP Sheila Gilmore writing to cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood demanding that he investigate whether the code of conduct may have been broken. Here's her letter in full.

Dear Sir Jeremy,

 

Following reports that Mr Ryan Coetzee, Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, is employed to work on the Liberal Democrats’ election planning and has been conducting political polling on their behalf, I am writing to express the concern that his actions may be in breach of the Special Advisers Code of Conduct, and to ask you to investigate.

 

As you will know, the Special Advisers’ Code of Conduct states:

 

‘Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the Department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is carefully limited…They should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.’

 

The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, Cabinet Office, 2010, p.3

 

If Mr Coetzee is working on issues concerning the Liberal Democrats’ election strategy rather than the objectives of the Cabinet Office, where he is employed on the public payroll, this would appear a breach of the code.

 

In recognition of the importance of upholding public trust in political appointments, I hope that you will be able to confirm beyond all doubt that the code has not been broken and will in particular be able to answer the following questions:

 

-          Could you specify what political activity has been undertaken by Mr Coetzee on behalf of the Liberal Democrats during his time employed as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, and in each instance what steps were taken to ensure the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers was followed?

 

-          What polling exercises has Mr Coetzee conducted in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister to which public funds were committed?

 

-          How many meetings has Mr Coetzee attended at Liberal Democrat Offices in Great George St during his period employed in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, at what times and dates, and what steps have been taken to ensure the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers has been followed?

 

It would rightly be extremely concerning if the Liberal Democrats were exploiting public resources and the important role played by Special Advisers to further party political interests rather than government objectives.

 

I look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Sheila Gilmore

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.