A Liberal Democrat activist who sits on two national party committees has been suspended from her regional party after a string of sexist comments on social media. The activist in question, Sarah Noble, made multiple tweets of a disturbingly hateful nature, including “kill all men”, “fuck men”, and “die cis[gendered] scum”.
The comments were brought to light by by HEqual, a gender egalitarian campaigning group. After being made aware of them, former Lib Dem Equalities Minister Jo Swinson was quick to condemn Noble’s comments. Writing on Facebook, Swinson said the comments were “completely unacceptable” and “in no way represent the views of Liberal Democrats”. The former Minister also said that Noble has been asked to delete her tweets and apologise. No apology has yet been forthcoming.
Noble sits on the national committees of the LGBT Liberal Democrats and the Secular & Humanist Liberal Democrats. She has also been elected to the executive committee of the National Union of Students’ LGBT wing, which, like the LGBT Lib Dems, has a zero-tolerance attitude towards hate speech.
She is also a former team member of the “Atheism Plus Block Bot”, a twitter program that allows you to block predefined lists of users. The Block Bot’screators claimed that the program blocks “trolls, abusers, and bigots”, but it faces growing accusations that this is merely a smokescreen for targeting people who offend them, such as the biologist and author Richard Dawkins. In the wake of Noble’s comments, the question of whether the Block Bot is really against all forms of hatred and bigotry is sure to be raised.
Noble’s regional party, the Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrats also took action, suspending her from their executive committee pending further investigation. However, Noble continues to sit on the executive committees of the Secular and Humanist Liberal Democrats, the LGBT Liberal Democrats, and Liberal Youth. These organisations have yet to comment on Noble’s behaviour.
The Liberal Democrats are known for the high value they place on due process, and it may be some time before the various committees take action. However, this is unlikely to placate HEqual, who continue to ask why other sections of the party have not followed the example of Jo Swinson and the Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrats.
Writing on their blog, HEqual welcomed the actions taken by Jo Swinson and the Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrats, but stressed that their actions did not go far enough. HEqual said that Noble’s comments would “continue to be representative of the Liberal Democrats” so long as the party has “sitting committee members who make and stand by such comments”.
The LGBT Liberal Democrats and the Secular and Humanist Liberal Democrats have yet to issue any comment. I reached out to the chairs of both committees as well as to Sarah Noble herself prior to writing this article. None have returned my requests for comment.
The Liberal Democrats currently take a robust stance on hate speech. They are currently championing a policy that would ban homophobic chanting on football pitches. Critics of hate speech laws say that they are too broadly drawn, and confuse the hateful with the merely politically incorrect. But as long as the Lib Dems defends the existing consensus, members like Noble, who are far more than just politically incorrect, represent a serious threat to their credibility.
The LGBT Liberal Democrats and the Secular and Humanist Liberal Democrats have yet to issue any comment. I reached out to the chairs of both committees as well as to Sarah Noble herself prior to writing this article. None have returned my requests for comment. However, a spokesman from Lib Dem HQ said “Sarah Noble’s comments are unacceptable. The party is taking the matter seriously and has asked Sarah Noble to apologise and remove the posts”.
UPDATE: Gary McLelland, Chairman of the Secular and Humanist Liberal Democrats (HSLD) has commented on the story.
After publishing our investigation into Sarah’s Twitter activity, we contacted the three Lib Dem executive committees on which Sarah sits, as well as Lib Dem Youth, for which Sarah serves as a member of the policy committee. We also made contact with Liberal Democrat MPs who’s remit includes or included equality issues, namely Julian Huppert and Jo Swinson. Various other individuals have complained about Noble’s conduct to the party after reading our investigation.
We pleased to say that the Yorkshire and Humberside Liberal Democrats have conducted themselves professionally during this matter and clearly taken our concerns and those of our 30,000+ readers seriously. A meeting of the Regional Executive was held on 4 April 2015, at which Noble’s conduct was discussed. We can now exclusively report the outcome of this meeting was as follows:
The Regional Executive decided to suspend Sarah Noble from the Regional Executive Committee to enable an investigation to be made into the statements. Senior Regional Officers will discuss your complaints with the Local Party who should investigate and decide on any future action.
Obviously we welcome the developments at the Yorkshire and Humber Lib Dems, unfortunately other party bodies have been far less helpful and highly evasive, failing to respond to any of our communications, presumably in the hope the story will just go away despite the huge interest. Thankfully, despite ignoring our emails and phone calls, we’re aware that senior Lib Dems are clearly avid readers of our articles, and amongst the 30K+ visitors we’ve noted multiple hits from what appears to be former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s own office:
Fortunately, we’re not the only ones wanting answers on this issue and we’d like to thank those who posted links to our article to Jo Swinson’s election Facebook election web chat session on April 14th. Thankfully, Jo didn’t dodge the question this time and finally issued the following statement:
“Such comments are competely unacceptable and in no way representative of the views of Liberal Democrats. We have taken action and asked the person in question to remove the posts and apologise.”
At HEqual we certainly welcome Swinson’s condemnation of Noble’s hate speech and also her call for the posts to be removed. However, we broke this story over a fortnight ago, and at the time of writing there has been no apology from Noble, nor has a single one of the Tweets in question been removed. As far as we know, Noble is still a member of the Lib Dems, and still sits on three our of four of the Lib Dem committees in question. Therefore, contrary to Swinson’s claims, the genocidal hate speech in question clearly is representative of the Liberal Democrats at present, and it remains as such for as long as the party has sitting committee members who make and stand by such comments.
While its better than nothing, the statement from Swinson really isn’t sufficient, and Lib Dems associated with equalities issues should be at the forefront in dealing with these type of issues. One has to expect certain Lib Dem feminists would have been rather more vocal had the genders been reversed in the hate Tweets. That said, the party has had previous problems in being sufficiently robust in tackling completely unacceptable comments by party members, most notably taking far too long to finally expel the anti-Semitic peer Jenny Tonge, so in all fairness there may well be basic mismanagement at work here in addition to sexism.
Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, news of Noble’s suspension has coincided perfectly with the launch of their manifesto, a document which, amongst other things, seeks to criminalise homophobic chanting at football matches. So we presently have a party who on one hand wants the police to be involved in handling somewhat offensive football chants, yet it’s own LGBT executive which presumably authored such a policy, comprises of at least one individual who’s Twitter feed is far more hateful than anything heard at any football ground anywhere in the country. Furthermore, the mere removal of an individual from important committee positions within the party is a far easier and less drastic step than actually involving the police. If the Lib Dems can’t put their own house in order, then it can’t possibly be credible for them to make such proposals.
HEqual will be in contact with the remaining committees who’ve remained silent on this issue to ask for their position in light of recent developments. Given the complete lack of response of even acknowledgement of our communications by said committees in the past, we’re forced to now also ask readers to do the same. You can contact them at the following links:
You can also contact Lib Dem equalities spokesperson Dr Julian Huppert: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once again, our thanks go out to the Yorkshire and Humberside branch for being so much more professional in handling this matter than the rest of the party. As a politically neutral organisation we’d like to emphasise that our wok is not motivated by the forthcoming election, and we’d be delighted if the Liberal Democrats were to swiftly resolve this issue and therefore again become a possible voting option for 49% of the electorate.
P.S. If you enjoy our investigations and research then perhaps please consider making a small donation to HEqual to support our work.