The catastrophe of the death by suicide of a young conservative activist earlier this year has opened the Conservative Party to some disbelief and ridicule, particularly in the party’s handling of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding both the conduct of a person in contact with vulnerable young people and the conduct of the party in handling complaints. The objective of this entirely subjective and personal post is not to dig into the circumstances of the tragedy, nor to point fingers of blame against any individuals, but to consider the issues made public, rightly or wrongly, accurately or inaccurately, in the press and in social media. As a result, I shall not use any names in the post, other than those who retain positions of authority.
First of all, the holy grail of any investigative reporter or social media commentator, is the idea that a malfeasance or misdemeanour inside a political machine goes ‘right to the top’. Articles featured on Guido Fawkes blog suggesting that ‘PM had [Alleged Culprit] to tea at Chequers’ are intended to create the impression that the [Alleged Culprit] performed his misdeeds at the behest of the PM, or with the PM’s knowledge. We are intended to conclude that ‘they’re up to their necks in it’ as a cover-up. Hence stories about prominent members of the House of Lords, members of Parliament etc, etc, are all intended to create an air of collective complicity.
This is of course bollocks. Politics at a high level is a close quarters activity, and it is entirely likely and normal that the PM would have the leader of the highly effective Roadtrip operation to tea; the PM is the leader of a political party which vied for power, and meeting the infantry, and the infantry commanders in a general election, and afterwards, is a completely normal activity. In this case, however, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the party, when fully clued in on the alleged activities of [Alleged Culprit] took action against him.
The query around what the chairman of the party knew and when is essentially a canard as well, because it’s only possible to draw conclusions on the basis of what was known at the time through disclosure to the chairman of the party. It has been well reported, summarised and asserted that [Alleged Culprit] was a manipulator with an high degree of acuity and capability. It has been alleged that [Alleged Culprit] committed acts of blackmail, distortion, lies and threats.
In those circumstances it is not unlikely that the truth and [Alleged Culprit’s] involvment in the tragic incidents were obscured, most likely by [Alleged Culprit] himself. It is unlikely, from what has been reported, that he needed any help to seek to muddy those waters. By reputation he had every reason and capability to do so himself.
It has been clear to me for many years that CF has not taken the protection of vulnerable young people seriously enough. There are some obvious reasons for this – it’s a youth wing of a political party which prizes self-reliance and independence very highly, and interventions of the ‘touchy-feely’ sort are not likely to be welcomed. Nevertheless, when we seek to engage young people in the very knockabout world of UK politics, we need to take safeguarding extremely seriously. Young conservatives are competitive, self promoting and serious about their politics. Whilst there is banter, there is also, I can recall only too well, bullying, one-upmanship and grief.
CF is enormously popular and Roadtrip was deeply impressive. CFers all over the country got to see other constituencies, better understand their country and whet their appetite for canvassing, politics and the party. It has serious flaws, however, which must be addressed, to avoid exposing more young people to the risks we’re finding out about now.
There are answers to all the problems extant in CF. A well-developed membership welfare plan, a considered safeguarding strategy and an effective whistleblowing protocol could all be developed under efficient staff supervision to bring it about in time for the next general election. We owe it to our members to protect them.