Yesterday the Young Britons Foundation called off their annual Activist Training Conference — following the suicide of Elliot Johnson in September, and the subsequent revelations of Tory activist bullying. Although six Cabinet ministers had cancelled their attendance at the event, and Elliot’s father Ray had written to David Cameron calling the YBF ‘a cult, indoctrinating young activists’, the organisation’s chief-executive Don Blaney appeared on LBC — with Iain Dale — to blame the cancellation on intrusive journalists.
In the interview which LBC called ‘explosive’, Dale challenged Blaney on a number of points, though the exchange could hardly be called a grilling. Blaney spoke about his role in making Johnson redundant from his job ahead of his suicide, as well as how well he knew Mark Clarke, who he once counted as a friend. Dale then asked him what happens at YBF conferences:
ID: In fact, what happens at these conferences?
DB: You have about 120/130 young kids drawn together from throughout the country who get together for 48 hours. They have a series of speeches and workshops where they get a chance to learn. They get interviewed on camera and that gets played back, learn how to speak in public, but they also get a chance to hear from prominent political figures whether MPs or leaders of think-tanks. They are a social networking occasion which is the highlight of the year for many many young conservatives.
ID: And is the conference going ahead?
DB: No, I took the decision today to postpone the YBF conference this weekend, a couple of journalists from Newsnight have been phoning up female activists on spec to ask them if they’ve been raped or assaulted.
Blaney went on to accuse BBC journalists of ‘not behaving as responsibly as they could’.
However, in the interest of transparency — and responsible journalism — Mr S can’t help but wonder whether LBC ought to have put a declaration of interests at the start of the interview on behalf of Dale, or even put a different presenter forward. After all, for all his questions about what happens at YBF events, Steerpike understands that Dale knows more than he lets on. In fact Dale has strong links with YBF, with the LBC presenter speaking at Young Britons Foundation events in the past, as well as actually carrying out media training with the young activists.
Since then Dale has made no secret of his friendship with Blaney, regularly puffing him up online — recently praising Blaney on his Conservative Home blog for a great night he had at a Margaret Thatcher dinner, as well as re-publishing Blaney’s writing on his personal blog:
Just as well Dale is not a journalist for the Beeb, otherwise his impartiality could be called into question.