Conservative Party Faces Bullying Controversies

From Breitbart London (emphases added):

Former Conservative Party candidate Mark Clarke has been named as the “man at the heart” of bullying allegations made by the 21-year-old Tory activist Elliott Johnson, who is believed to have taken his own life on the night of September 15th 2015, as first reported by Breitbart London.

…Another e-mail seen by Breitbart London alleges “[REDACTED], a long time friend and member of Mark’s close circle… told me that in order to prevent Oliver Cooper running for CF Chairman again, the team would mount a series of personal attacks in the media to erode his character”. [REDACTED] claimed to have worked for Mr Clarke at Conservative HQ in an email seen by Breitbart London. The story has been confirmed by other activists close to the issue.

…In another Facebook missive, Mr Clarke is alleged to have threatened to “ruin” the Conservative Party activists in the Oxford University association, claiming “We could ruin them. Ban all Tory speakers. Blacklist the leadership for failing to campaign properly – in a way that would follow them their entire career. And much more personal stuff.”

Clarke has denied the allegations, calling them “defamatory”, although he has declined to comment further, stating that “the family [of Elliott Johnson] have asked for privacy and I respect both their wishes and the coroner’s process.” Breitbart, however, notes that at least one relative of Johnson is speaking out on social media about what happened (this is Johnson’s cousin; it also appears that his mother left a comment on a now-removed article published by the Commentator).

Clarke has also been accused of bullying by Ben Harris-Quinney, who was suspended from the Conservative Party earlier this year for suggesting tactical voting for UKIP. Harris-Quinney told the Spectator in May that “there have been a number of online articles over the past few weeks that are inaccurate and clearly designed to defame my character, this organised campaign appears to have strong links to Conservative Central Office”; he has now told the Sunday Times that Clarke had warned him after a clash that “attacks would be widespread, that would come from a number of anonymous individuals and I would not be able to pin it down on anyone at Conservative Central Office.”

Meanwhile, referring not to Clarke but what appears to be a more general culture, Tim Roll-Pickering has said on Twitter that “I now wish I’d reported stuff I saw back in late 2000s”.

Now, it would be wrong to suggest that behaviour of the kind described here is solely a vice of the Conservative Party (or of “the Right” in general), or that it forms a necessary part of being a Conservative. I am not a Conservative voter, but I have Conservative friends who would have nothing to do with underhand or dishonest behaviour. I also regard as very troubling that the Labour candidate Kate Godfrey was apparently subjected to threats and sexual harassment by members of a rival faction within the Labour party.

However, for the party in power to be associated with this kind of corruption (let’s give it its proper name) is particularly corrosive, and there is lots of evidence of smearing and other disreputable shenanigans by individuals associated with the Conservative Party over several years. In some cases, the perpetrators may be “bad apple” activists, but they have avoided censure despite complaints being brought to the attention to those whose job it is to protect the Party’s reputation and credibility. And some instances indicate that the rot goes deeper than a few fringe characters.

On Twitter,  Harris-Quinney has suggested that the allegations against Clarke also reflect on the former party chairman, Grant Shapps. Clarke apparently boasted of reporting directly to Shapps, and Breitbart has published a photo that shows Clarke with “the former special advisor to ex-Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, Paul Abbott… and the Conservative Party’s strategist Jim Messina.” Meanwhile, Zelo Street has a photo of Clarke, Abbott, and Harry Cole – the last of whom has recently graduated from the vicious Guido Fawkes smear-machine to become Westminster Correspondent for the Sun newspaper (with less than impressive results so far). Shapps, of course, has been at the centre of a number of controversies that raise questions of integrity.

Bullying is a perennial problem of human nature, and it can manifest within any group or institution. In some cases, the group attacks outsiders; at other times, the malign impulse is directed inwardly, channelled through power relations. The issue here, however, is that safeguards and systems of accountability were either absent or ignored. It seems to me that it is time for some critical scrutiny of how the Conservative Party handles allegations of bullying; and I support a petition on the subject introduced here.

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