The murky story of Mark Clarke, Elliott Johnson and allegations of bullying in the ranks of Conservative Future is pointing towards another scalp: Lord Feldman. Following the resignation of Grant Shapps this weekend, MPs are now calling for the Conservative party’s current chairman to resign — given that he was at the top of Conservative HQ when Clarke was kicked off the candidates list and later brought back in. He was also chairman when Johnson died too.
Shapps has been described as the ‘fall guy’ for this situation — he had already left CCHQ after May’s general election and has been serving as the international development minister. But he tweeted last night that it was his own decision and he should have possibly quit sooner:
Decision to resign 100% my own. I carefully considered it for several days. I felt Johnson family deserved it & if anything I was too slow.
— Grant Shapps (@grantshapps) November 29, 2015
Shapps resignation came after an in-depth Guardian article on the apparent suicide of Elliott Johnson, in which Sayeeda Warsi, another former party chairman, claimed to have written to Shapps in January this year about the Mark Clarke bullying allegations. Warsi also said Clarke was ‘a disaster waiting to happen and this was common knowledge’.
CCHQ and Feldman have claimed not to have known about any bullying allegations until August — but can this stand up? For one thing, Feldman is the man in charge of money at CCHQ — who else could have signed off the funds for RoadTrip? Paul Goodman points out in the Daily Telegraph today that Feldman was senior to Shapps and therefore the buck ultimately stops with him.
Those who are campaigning for an independent inquiry into the death of Elliott Johnson will be disappointed that CCHQ’s efforts so far have the hallmarks of a white wash. Feldman is being interviewed, as one of 40+ witnesses, but the process is being carried out internally, the interviews won’t be finished until sometime in 2016 and the solicitors Clifford Chance will review the evidence to make recommendations. Even then, the party may decide only to publish the key findings, not the whole report.
The Conservative Party’s board, chaired by Feldman, is meeting today to decide whether there should be a full independent inquiry. Given the allegations that reports of bullying were not properly investigated and there appears to be no proper party structures to deal with such situations, taking CCHQ out of the equation seems to be the only sensible thing to do at this stage.
Andrew Feldman is possibly David Cameron’s closest friend in politics — they were tennis partners at Oxford, Feldman encouraged Cameron to run for the Tory leadership and in return, the Prime Minister ennobled him and Feldman rose to effectively become CEO of the Conservative party for the past five years. That friendship has clearly served both of them well, but can it survive the intense media glare of the next few days and weeks? Although Labour’s leadership crisis and the likely vote on bombing Syria are occupying the media’s focus, there are plenty more revelations to come on the RoadTrip story and Feldman still has some very tricky questions to answer.