After law firm Clifford, Chance submitted its report to the Tory Party on the bullying scandal that caused the leadership such discomfort in the wake of Elliott Johnson’s death, the press silence that had been deafening was miraculously broken. In an echo of the John Whittingdale affair, the Mail On Sunday has given every indication that it was sitting on a fair old pile of dirt - one involving the present Prime Minister.
The paper’s tenacious political editor Simon Walters leads off with “Theresa May and the Tatler Tory: How PM back-slapped the activist at the centre of a sex, blackmail and bullying scandal … A video has emerged of Prime Minster endorsing activist Mark Clarke … PM can be seen praising his work for the Conservatives at a boozy rally … She leads a round of applause for him and even acts as his cheerleader”. And there’s more.
“Jimmy McLoughlin, son of Tory chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin … took part in a Clarke campaign to try to save ex-Tory MP Aidan Burley who took part in a Nazi-themed stag party … Tory Minister Robert Halfon, who faced an alleged blackmail threat by Clarke over an illicit love affair, asked [Andrew] Feldman to give a job to Clarke around the time he was sleeping with Clarke's former mistress”. All good nudge and wink stuff.
And here is the coded threat: “The revelations are a setback to Mrs May's hopes that she would avoid being caught up in the Tatler Tory scandal. She believed last week's inquiry, together with the post-Brexit resignation of David Cameron's friend Lord Feldman - blamed by Elliott Johnson's parents for not taking tougher action against Clarke - would avoid her Government being tainted”. That means the MoS could dig further - maybe along with other papers - if Ms May incurs their displeasure.
What might they dig up? Here, an article in the same paper by Tom Kelly shows the available lines of inquiry: “Orgies, sex for favours and blackmail: The damning testimony that activists say has been left out of the Tatler Tory report branded a whitewash … Key testimony has been allegedly 'ignored' by the Tatler Tory inquiry … It included claims Tory MPs regularly sexually harassed young activists … Inquiry was also sold Tory 'mafia' tried to seize control of the party”. Really? Do go on.
“Drunk and ‘lecherous’ Conservative politicians and party officials preyed on teenagers during events … One MP allegedly gave special favours to a researcher on the proviso that they slept together … A young foreign activist working as an intern at a think-tank feared she was raped after she woke up ‘in bed with an MP’ … It was claimed senior politicians inappropriately ‘touched and fondled’ teenage activists and gave the impression they could ‘make or break their career’”. But we know this already.
We know there are at least three Tory MPs who used gatherings of young activists to score casual sexual encounters, and as their names have been passed to Zelo Street, the press will know them, too. It has been put to me that one of those three MPs’ activities were described as “worse than Mark Clarke”. So what is the MoS waiting for?
That the MoS, and perhaps other papers, are starting to delve into this affair once more is welcome. What if baffling is why they don’t expose the bad behaviour about which they already know. Still, it’s a promising start. And there will be more later.