Lord Rennard has had his party membership reinstated. Photo: Getty
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Lord Rennard’s suspension from his party has been lifted

The peer who the Lib Dems suspended after sexual harassment allegations has had his party membership reinstated.

Coverage of the Liberal Democrats over this summer recess has been rather limited, and it seems aside from a small flurry of activity surrounding their pledge to raise the income tax allowance, this will be the biggest headline relating to the party during the break: Lord Rennard has been reinstated.

Rennard, a former senior figure in the party, was suspended from the Lib Dems, who accused him of bringing the party into disrepute over sexual harassment allegations. He issued an apology in May responding to the women who made claims against him after a period of refusing to do so, eventually telling them he regretted that he may have “inadvertently encroached” upon their “personal space”.

However, disciplinary proceedings have now been dropped and the peer has had his party membership reinstated by the Lib Dems.  According to the BBC, the party inquiry concluded that no further action should be taken against Rennard, finding that while the four female party activists’ claims against him were “broadly credible”, they could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Nick Clegg commented that, since the allegations were levelled against his colleague, his party had “taken a long, hard look in the mirror”, and that he is “confident that the party has changed.”

However, one of the activists who made a complaint, Susan Gaszczak, who left the party in July because of the Lib Dems’ refusal to expel Rennard from the party, has made this statement:

“The party democracy obviously has no moral compass. They say we are credible, then fail to act on it and don't see the impact this has on women and women voters.”

And the Daily Mail quotes another of the party workers who made allegations against the figure anonymously as saying the decision is a “kick in the teeth”, and warning that, “the party will never be trusted by women again”.

The shadow women and equalities minister and Labour MP Gloria de Piero also warned about the party’s attitude to women, remarking that Clegg is, “more interested in trying to salvage the Lib Dems fading election hopes than do the right thing by the women who made these serious complaints.”

The party’s statement says nothing about the decision behind dropping the disciplinary process, and will add to the Lib Dems’ problems with their approach and appeal both to female members and politicians. One of five from a woeful total of seven female Lib Dem MPs could easily lose their seats in the election, due to their slim majorities – and the party has yet to appoint a woman to a cabinet secretary position. It remains to be seen whether its attitude to its own women will translate to the attitude of female voters towards the party.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.