The Tory Party’s own inquiry into bullying within its ranks, undertaken by law firm Clifford, Chance, has now reported. Its findings have been made available - well, after a fashion - and to no surprise at all it has given a fresh but rather pungent coat of whitewash to some of those on whom suspicion had fallen. But it did not feature the family of activist Elliott Johnson, whose tragic death precipitated the whole exercise.
Right from the start, even the little we are being told about the way the party deals with bullying or other inappropriate conduct should ring alarm bells: “The findings of the investigation, conducted by the law firm Clifford Chance, found there was no written published procedure or commonly adopted practice for party members to raise a complaint”. So that made it easier to sweep it under the carpet.
And on the subject of Mark Clarke, already expelled from the Tories for life, we read “The firm said it had identified 13 alleged victims of Clarke’s bullying between 1 January 2014 and 14 August 2015, and six specific allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour relating to Clarke were identified, including allegations that he had propositioned activists or tried to kiss them … Clarke has previously denied all allegations”.
What about after August 2015? And what about before January 2014? Clarke was a prospective parliamentary candidate in the 2010 campaign. Did the Clifford, Chance inquiry include Clarke’s part in the bullying campaigns against elected officers of Conservative Future, the Tories’ youth wing? If not, why not? And what of the retinue of hangers-on in and around the party who worked with Clarke?
Also, senior Tories appear to have got off with no hint of censure whatever: “The report also reveals that Clarke was on the radar of senior Conservative party staff, including David Cameron’s spin doctor, Sir Lynton Crosby, and the then party chairman Lord Andrew Feldman. However, this was in relation to his inappropriate use of the job title ‘director in CCHQ’ and not for bullying allegations”.That means they have been cleared.
Also cleared, if only by implication as the Clifford, Chance report has apparently not passed specific adverse comment on his activities, is Grant “Spiv” Shapps, former co-chairman of the party and who resigned his post over the Elliott Johnson affair. It was serious enough for him to go at the time, but not serious enough for there to be any criticism of him in the report. It seems Emma Pidding got away without criticism, too.
Elliott Johnson’s father Ray has summed up what many have concluded: “We haven’t had a chance to read through the findings and make a complete assessment of them but we expected a whitewash and I believe that’s what we’re going to get … The party has recognised there are failings but they are also saying they’ve done nothing wrong … We decided not to take part in the Clifford Chance inquiry due to concerns that Tory HQ would be pulling the strings from behind the scenes”.
The only good thing about this apparent whitewash is that its release should spur more proper investigation from the press and broadcast media - and elsewhere. This saga is not over yet, and the Tories’ attempt at distraction is not good enough.