POLITICS

Conservative Party 'Swept Under The Carpet' Allegations Of Bullying, Harassment And Blackmail, Says Tory MP Ben Howlett

19/11/2015 00:36 GMT | Updated 19/11/2015 00:59 GMT

A Conservative MP has said the party "swept under the carpet" allegations of bullying, harassment and blackmail in the Tory youth wing over fears it would jeopardise its election chances.

Ben Howlett, MP for Bath, spoke out to Newsnight amid a series of claims about the Tory high command failing to act on warnings about a party-backed campaign taking volunteers around the country on a bus during the election campaign.

The Conservative Party announced before the show aired that Mark Clarke, an activist who founded the RoadTrip campaigning organisation, has been booted out of the party for life.

It also said it would no longer recognise RoadTrip as an official Conservative campaigning body.

Allegations of inappropriate behaviour were first directed at Mr Clarke, who once stood to be a Tory MP, after Elliott Johnson, a 21-year-old party activist, took his own life in September. A coroner's inquiry and a police investigation into the circumstances of his death are ongoing.

Newsnight said it had spoken to five more activists who say they made complaints about Mr Clarke before Mr Johnson's death.

Elected in May, Mr Howlett, a former chairman of the Conservative Future, a group of young Tories, said he had raised issues over Mr Clarke's behaviour with party bosses in 2010.

He went on to say concerns had been raised with current party chairman Lord Feldman and former chairs Baroness Warsi and Grant Shapps.

Mr Howlett, who told the programme he had suffered mental health issues as a result of Mr Clarke's bullying, said: "It was unfortunately swept under the carpet in the big scheme of things, because the party didn't want to end up having the general election result lost I can imagine, and you don't want to talk about those kind of thing whilst an election is going on."

One former activist told Newsnight Mr Clarke had sexually harassed her. Ray Johnson, Elliott's father, said it was "staggering" the MP had "damned" senior Tories for not having acting.

Mr Clarke told Newsnight he strongly denied all allegations of bullying, harassment, assault or attempted blackmail.

He told the programme: "I believe that these false allegations and this media firestorm are related to the events surrounding Elliott's sad death. As such I will be co-operating with the Coroner and providing him with the fullest information. This is the proper process. After the inquest I will look to take legal action for defamation in respect of these allegations."

A Conservative spokesperson said: “In the light of information that has come to our knowledge this week, Mark Clarke’s membership of the Conservative Party has been cancelled for life. This means he cannot be a candidate or represent the Party in any way.

“Mark Clarke’s Party membership was suspended in September 2015, following allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour.

“The Party does not tolerate bullying or any other improper behaviour. 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.

“Furthermore the Party’s lawyers and the Party Board’s disciplinary committee will continue to investigate complaints received in relations to RoadTrip2015. Also, it is confirmed that RoadTrip is no longer authorised as a campaigning entity for the Conservative Party.

“Going forward, we will ensure that all groups affiliated to the Conservative Party formally adopt the harassment and anti-bullying policy of CCHQ, as contained in the staff handbook.

“The Party will continue to make available on an ongoing basis to all Party members and activists the counselling service provided by Westfield Health.”