I will get straight to the point. My concern is twofold:
1. I am concerned that Elliott Johnson complained to CCHQ that he was being bullied, was suddenly confronted with an escalation of bullying because someone at CCHQ had leaked the details of his complaint to the person targeting him, and perceived himself to be in such a hopeless and isolated position that a tragedy resulted.
2. I am further concerned that the Conservative party will struggle to learn from the findings of an internal investigation with a narrow remit by a former party candidate and ‘aspiring MP’, and will risk the rights and well-being of others purely because they are concerned about their image at a crucial time when they are trying to portray a resurgent opposition as a bunch of bullies.
This is not wild speculation. I have experienced similar problems myself with CCHQ, and the result of their indiscretion and neglect was escalation up to and including repeated false allegations of child rape and suggestions from my bully that I should “drink bleach” or otherwise do myself in. Bullies often escalate when they think they are under threat, and even revisit this behaviour when the heat is off if they discover they have been able to use certain behaviours without consequence. The most recent messages (yes, this is still happening) assure me that if I will soon end up in jail or “topped” if I continue to ‘whine’ about it.
Obviously, I risk further escalation for daring to raise these issues publicly, but I do not see that I have much of a choice; I have raised my concerns about this privately with CCHQ, and they continue to be lackadaisical and dismissive about it, even now.
I attempted contact with the Chairman two weeks ago. I raised concerns about how previous complaints were handled and sought his assurance that any future complaints would be handled appropriately. I also asked for a suitable email address for concerned members of the public who might wish to contact him in confidence. Let’s deal with the response to the latter request first:
At present, if you think yourself to be a victim of bullying by Tory activists, you are advised to complain ‘in writing’ by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
However, this advice is not publicised in any meaningful way; I only have it because I asked for it. There’s vague talk of email(s) to an unknown number of members of the Conservative party, but there has been no attempt by the Conservatives to reach out to potential victims outside of the party (which is typical as it is short-sighted), and there has been no attempt to make this point-of-contact for victims of bullying obvious and readily-accessible on the web, despite the recent tragedy. It would cost the Conservative Party next to nothing to create a single web page on their site asking for victims of bullying to come forward. Why doesn’t such a page exist? (Rhetorical question: we all know why.)
Further, any complaint that does get sent to email@example.com will not only be read by the Chairman, but somewhere between six and a dozen other people who play an unknown role behind the scenes. You will also most likely receive a reply from a person other than the Chairman, claiming to act on their behalf, who will not give their last name. None of this will fill victims with confidence, even if they get this far.
Some might see this less-than-confidential channel as a potential security issue given the closeness of someone like Mark Clarke to a previous Chairman, and the allegations of leaks of complaints that have been sent in recent times. It is certainly an issue to someone who, for example, has been lured into a ‘sex act’ online and has been threatened with public exposure; surely someone who has been put in such a position deserves actual confidentiality?
There is also the minor problem that the present Chairman, Lord Feldman: (a) does not recognise that leaks/disclosures of complaints about bullying have happened in the past, and (b) appears utterly unconcerned that acting Chairmen including Sayeeda Warsi and Grant Shapps have been directly and demonstrably involved in such leaks/disclosures.
If Lord Feldman does not recognise these events and take steps to acknowledge and address them, then any assurance on his behalf by some-guy-called-Nick about complaints being treated in a “sensitive and confidential manner” is meaningless, especially when it is matched with a claim that “the Conservative Party has always taken any accusations of bullying seriously,” because it quite evidently hasn’t.
To be clear on this point: Lord Feldman has been sent an early draft of this article containing the relevant allegations and has declined to comment. The present Chairman cannot and will not deny that former Chairmen have been directly involved in the leaking of complaints about bullying to those who are alleged to be involved in the bullying. But there won’t be any investigation into that, because politics.
It is a pity that the present Chairman does not see any reason to acknowledge past failures and establish new protocols that are designed to better-protect victims of bullying and encourage them to come forward. It is a key reason why an internal party inquiry has no legitimacy and no hope of uncovering the full picture.
There needs to be an independent inquiry not only into this issue, but how reports of bullying have been handled under David Cameron’s leadership in recent years.
Victims of bullying should be made to feel safer from the moment their concerns are first heard. They should not be made to feel less safe because the only person paying any attention to their complaint is their bully.
At present, there are many people – including myself* – who are past and/or present targets of bullying by party members, but dare not report the detail because of well-placed concerns that sensitive data will be dismissed with a sniff and shared without a thought. If the Conservative Party cannot and will not show that this attitude has changed, they will continue having a problem even if they set out with the best of intentions from this point on.
(*To make my own interest in this matter clear: I continue to be targeted by a bully because I dared to report bullying. This bullying mainly takes the form of a bully shouting ‘bully’ at me, but he makes other allegations of criminal behaviour such as stalking and monetary fraud, and other party members – including MPs who should know better – often join in. This is called ‘projection’. Grant Shapps became so upset with me over this report of his bullying that he repeated some of these allegations in his formal capacity as Party Chairman. This is called ‘displacement’. The party promised my lawyers a reponse to the latter behaviour ‘shortly after the election’. We’re still waiting.)
UPDATE (25 Oct) – Elliott Johnson’s father Ray Johnson has called for a Scotland Yard inquiry and in the relevant article, the Daily Mail reveal that there are victims who are too afraid to submit evidence to an internal inquiry because of earlier leaks. By this stage, it is fair to say that CCHQ are actively avoiding the idea of an independent inquiry… but this same attitude of putting party image before principle is what led to this mess in the first place. It is also fair to say that Ray Johnson’s concerns about a cover-up are well placed. Lord Feldman already knows that they will not hear from all victims if CCHQ press ahead with an internal inquiry; this in itself is a form of cover-up.
UPDATE (28 Oct) – Read Ray Johnson’s open letter to Lord Feldman here.
UPDATE (19 Nov) – In a deeply cynical move, yesterday the Tory party banned Mark Clarke from the party for life as a bold and (they hoped) spectacular sacrifice ahead of a highly damaging Newsnight report. It is blindingly obvious that this was done in an attempt to protect the senior Tories who neglected the problem of bullying in their ranks for years. The senior Tories who have serious questions to answer are (surprise, surprise) former party Chairs Sayeeda Warsi and Grant Shapps… oh, and the current Chairman Lord Feldman:
Ben Howlett, MP for Bath, told Newsnight he first raised concerns about Clarke’s behaviour with party bosses in 2010 and had discussed Clarke with current party chairman Lord Feldman and Baroness Warsi, chair from 2010 to 2013. Mr Howlett said: “We’ve complained about him [Clarke] for a long period of time, and it’s not just him, it was people that were attributed to him as well. 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 this, for a very long period of time.”
It should not be left to the media to investigate this. There needs to be a formal, independent inquiry into how bullying complaints generally have been handled by Warsi, Shapps, Feldman and every other Chairman serving under Cameron’s leadership.
UPDATE (20 Nov) – Things are moving very quickly now. The scandal has exploded onto the front page of today’s Daily Mail, the Tories look like they are lining Mr Shapps up to be next under the bus, and Feldman is rushing to lend the internal inquiry credibility with appeals for victims to come forward and offers of an independent review after the fact.
(Meanwhile, it has been rightly pointed out on ConservativeHome of all places that Feldman’s own defence about what he knew when is undermined by his serving as Chairman alongside both Warsi and Shapps.)
Feldman is forced to make these gestures because he knows that myself and others been right all along about the need for an independent inquiry.
One of the problems with the internal inquiry (that the Tories are not inclined to publish) is its narrow remit. What has caused this issue to be recognised as the scandal it is: the appearance of a series of witnesses now including a Tory MP (Ben Howlett) who testify that they too made complaints to Warsi and Shapps about bullying, only to be ignored and/or subjected to further bullying as a result.
It is no coincidence that this mirrors my experience, because this has been an institutional problem with the Conservative Party for a very, very long time, and that is why members, victims and public generally need and deserve an independent inquiry into how bullying complaints have been handled by Chairmen serving under Cameron’s leadership.
To hurry things along, I have chosen to use my own circumstances to press the issue. A recent statement claimed that the party is now willing to look into complaints as far back as 2007. I expect that they mean but do not say that this promise is restricted to ‘complaints about Mark Clarke and maybe his associates’, and so have written the following email to Lord Feldman putting him on the spot and make it public here so there is no question about the hole he has dug for himself:
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 11:00 AM
Subject: My complaint
Dear Lord Feldman (and assorted underlings),
I am informed that recently the party “vowed to keep searching for complaints made as far back as 2007″.
So, will you be accepting my complaint at last, or admitting that your internal inquiry has such an impossibly narrow remit as to make it irrelevant?
I can demonstrate that both Warsi and Shapps mishandled serious and valid complaints about bullying. Further, I can demonstrate that both Grant Shapps and David Cameron turned a blind eye when it emerged that Jonathan Lord had done the same on a local/association level.
I have hard evidence to support all of the above, including emails, tracking from same, and a recording of Jonathan Lord.
Do you wish to accept evidence of mishandling of complaints of bullying, or are you ready to admit that your internal inquiry is only making limited inquiries that focus on the alleged conduct of Mark Clarke?
Also, when can I expect the response that the party promised about what Grant Shapps published about me in his capacity as co-Chairman? Your letter promised a reply soon after the election, but I am still waiting.
At present, Feldman’s options are:
1. Admit the internal inquiry has a narrow remit, but brazen it out anyway
2. Accept that the issue isn’t merely about the behaviour of some young(ish) activists but how complaints about bullying have handled by a series of Chairmen
3. Ignore a legitimate complaint about bullying that rings exactly the same alarm bells that everybody ignored when people first started complaining about Mark Clarke.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
Meanwhile, I will sign off for now by noting that the anonymous bullying targeting me has grown in intensity since I dared to highlight this issue, and a relevant author of that bullying has seen fit to quietly delete a tweet that made oblique reference to their knowledge of a letter of complaint that was sent to the Prime Minister through Grant Shapps in confidence.
UPDATE (28 Nov) – First up, this recent article in the Guardian is an absolute MUST-READ. It is an excellent and detailed piece on the circumstances/days leading up to Elliott Johnson’s death. Also popular today is Ray Johnson’s call for Feldman and Shapps to accept responsibility for their actions, and I must say that I wholeheartedly agree with his view that there is not only a need for an independent inquiry into the Tory party’s handling of bullying, but an independent body to handle complaints of bullying involving all parties going forward; the Tories aren’t the only tribe with members who put party before principle or otherwise mishandle complaints.
Finally, today I draw your attention toward Sayeeda Warsi’s letter showing that she complained directly to Grant Shapps about Mark Clarke specifically in January of this year and “never received a satisfactory response”.
Three things to note:
1. Warsi could and should have released this earlier in the previous weeks when her party was denying any previous knowledge of Clarke’s behaviour. She didn’t. This is an act of political survival, and not one of principle.
2. The only correspondence that Warsi can produce to show that she had expressed concern about Clarke resulted purely from her concerns that she herself had been targeted with some false allegations. There is no evidence to show that she acted to protect anyone but herself.
3. If Sayeeda Warsi regards her complaint to be valid, then she must also recognise that the complaint that I am aware of that went to her office about bullying was equally valid. But Warsi did not act on the body of the complaint and instead disclosed it to the alleged bully. The target of the bullying then complained to Warsi about this behaviour… and “never received a satisfactory response”. In fact, I can demonstrate through emails from Warsi’s office that this complaint was also disclosed to that same bully, quite brazenly.
Baroness Warsi has some serious questions to answer about her own handling of complaints of bullying and the political usefulness of her disclosure must not be allowed to draw attention away from that.
I have today emailed Warsi about my concerns, and I will let you know if she has any comment/regrets abouts the event I describe… or if she chooses to maintain a strategic silence in order to protect her own neck, just like her fellow former Chairman Mr Shapps.
UPDATE (29 Nov) – Sayeeda Warsi has received my email, and has no comment to offer, and no regret to express. Grant Shapps has resigned from the government (though he remains an MP), Lord Feldman is shitting bricks, and the Prime Minister is responding to calls for an independent inquiry…. by pretending that the existing party inquiry is independent. The audacity is breathtaking:
“The Conservative party has an independent inquiry under way under the oversight of a senior legal figure. I feel deeply for his parents. It is an appalling loss to suffer, and that’s why it is so important that there is the proper independent inquiry. There needs to be, and there is, a proper inquiry to ask all the questions and interview all the people who come forward and that will take place. There is an independent lawyer from Clifford Chance, who will oversee that process and make sure that it reaches clear conclusions from the evidence that comes through.” – David Cameron (source)
There is nothing new in what Cameron offers, and he is trying to spin his way out of it. I am appalled. Utterly appalled.
David Cameron is a weak leader of a corrupt institution. He knows there is worse to come. That is why he prefers to risk a media storm rather than commission an actual independent inquiry into how bullying complaints have been handled under his leadership.
UPDATE (01 Dec) – With his close friend Feldman under pressure to resign, Cameron has now offered to pass the entire investigation to law firm Clifford Chance (rather than simply have them review it after the fact) and twinned this with an offer to publish the resulting report. That it has taken us this long to get these minor allowances is a disgrace, and it still falls short of what is required, not least because of an evidently narrow but as-of-yet undisclosed remit.
Recent events have shown a pattern of negligent if not corrupt behaviour involving a series of Chairmen (ignore the complaint, leak/disclose the complaint to the subject). It is only right that an independent inquiry looks into the institutional failures that eventually led to the tragedy of Eliiott Johnson’s suicide, not merely the events surrounding the suicide itself. That means an inquiry into how complaints of bullying have been handled by a series of party Chairmen and others with similar authority operating under Cameron’s leadership.
It is also important this this inquiry be conducted by a public body, and not a private law firm with close ties to the Conservative Party.