After weeks of terrible stories about the bullying rife in the Tory youth wing, former party chairman Grant Shapps has resigned as a minister, with a formal statement expected later today. David Cameron was believed to be furious that Number 10 had been implicated in the stories about Mark Clarke and the death of Elliott Johnson, with the publication of letters of praise from the Prime Minister to Clarke about his RoadTrip initiative.
It is unlikely that Shapps, who was demoted as party chairman to the role of international development minister in the summer, will have resigned voluntarily. For some months his allies had believed he was on his way back to the Cabinet. So why did he have to go? The accusations that he failed to act on claims of bullying – and the allegation that those complaints were made much earlier than party officials claim they were made aware of what was happening – seem to have sealed his fate.
More widely than the way Shapps and his colleagues reacted to complaints, is the question of why Clarke, a man widely reputed in Tory circles as poisonous, became so indispensable to the Conservative campaigning machine, even after his association had highlighted his unsuitability to be a candidate after the 2010 election.
The answer is that the Tory party was desperate for ground troops to fight Labour, and with a small and often elderly membership, this was hard to come by. It seems that their desperation stopped them asking the sorts of questions that an organisation with the luxury of many footsoldiers should have asked. They’d risk taking on someone like Mark Clarke because they considered it less of a risk to being utterly swamped by Labour activists in key seats.
But it’s not just Mark Clarke, who denies bullying Johnson. Those involved in Tory youth politics say bullying was rife – and not limited to one man. Perhaps the party judged what was going on to be the sort of usual histrionics amongst student politicians, who believed they were acting like grown politicians with verbal thuggery and internet smears.
In hindsight, of course, with one young activist dead, the oversights of the party machine have proved far more costly than anyone could have imagined.