The Conservatives have cancelled the party membership of Mark Clarke, the man at the center of bullying and blackmail allegations, and banned him from ever re-joining. But a new row is brewing over just how long the Conservative party has known about Clarke’s alleged bad behaviour.
Conservative Party Chairman Lord Feldman launched an investigation into Clarke in August this year, shortly before the suicide of young Conservative activist Elliott Johnson, who left behind a note alleging that he had been bullied by Clarke.
After kicking Clarke out of the party yesterday, the Conservatives issued a statement saying that the complaints they received in the weeks before Johnson’s death were the first time they had heard bullying and blackmail allegations against Clarke.
“Lord Feldman acted immediately to set up an internal disciplinary inquiry as soon as he received the allegations in August 2015, of which he was previously wholly unaware.”
However, Conservative MP Ben Howlett has publically contradicted the Conservative Party’s claim. Speaking to Newsnight last night, Howlett said that Lord Feldman has been aware of complaints about Clarke for “a very long period of time.”
“We’ve complained about him for a long period of time and it’s not just him, it’s people who we attributed to him as will I complained when I was national chairman directly to Sayeeda Warsi as the party chairman, I complained directly to the chairman’s office when Grant Shapps took over as the party chairman, and I have to say Lord Feldman has been well aware of all of this for a very long period of time.”
In an even more charged allegation, Howlett says that the reason complaints were “swept under the carpet” was because the Conservatives were worried it could lose them votes in the General Election.
“We [the Conservatives] didn’t want to end up having the General Election as a result lost I imagine, and you don’t want to talk about these sort of things whilst a General Election is going on.”
In short, either Feldman or Howlett isn’t telling the truth.
Newsnight also spoke to six people who claim that they complained about Clarke’s behaviour at various times in the five years leading up to Johnson’s death. One of them, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Newsnight that she had complained to the Conservative Party in the summer of 2014, accusing Clarke of blackmail. She says that after she refused Clarke’s sexual advances he told her he would “destroy” if she criticised him. He allegedly told her that if she didn’t get on board with his way of doing things he would use a “dossier” of information he had collected about her sex life to ensure that she never had a career in Parliament or public affairs.
Mark Clarke told Newnight that allegations he has bullied or blackmailed anyone are “false.”
There are multiple conflicting stories going on here, and multiple questions that the Conservative Party need to answer pretty quickly. They need to establish whether Ben Howlett is right that Lord Feldman did know about the allegations earlier than he says he did, they need to find out when successive party chairmen Sayeeda Warsi and Grant Shapps ever received the complaints being made about Clarke — and if so, why no action was ever taken.
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