The Conservative Party’s investigation has barely begun into what has become known as the “Tatler Tory” scandal, which has involved serious accusations of misuse of personal data, allegations of sexual harassment during campaigns, attempted blackmail of a Government minister and bullying so severe that one young party member apparently committed suicide.
Senior officials of Tory-supporting groups and a Government minister have resigned or been forced out of their positions, while the entire executive of the Conservative Party’s youth wing has been suspended as a result of the rumbling scandal.
Undaunted by all that, Gavin Barwell has been out on the campaign trail with the Conservative Way Forward group that is implicated in the scandal.
Maybe Barwell owes them a big favour for getting him re-elected as MP in Croydon Central with that wafer-thin 165-vote majority?
Barwell’s narrow election win last May came despite his trailing in most of the opinion polls before the vote – including those conducted by his old boss, master tax avoider Lord Cashcroft.
Some suggested that Barwell was returned thanks to “shy Tories”, those who were unwilling to express their voting intentions before polling day. But maybe it also had something to do with the “sly Tories” within the controversial Conservative Future youth group and its RoadTrip campaigners, spearheaded by Mark Clarke, the high-profile activist who has since been banned for life from Barwell’s party amid various serious accusations of misconduct.
Last year, much of Barwell’s campaigning avoided mentioning his affiliation to the Tory party, using carefully drafted solicited letters of support which deliberately omitted mention of David Cameron and the Conservatives, and abusing his parliamentary position with other correspondence to constituents.
And before the General Election, Barwell benefited from at least one visit from the now notorious “sex and booze” RoadTrips organised by Clarke.
This month, Conservative Way Forward, a group whose senior officers worked closely with Clarke, was invited to Croydon by Barwell to do some more campaigning.
In the 1980s, the Young Conservatives group became so toxic for the conduct of some of its far-right members that Tory Central Office eventually closed down the organisation. Its successor, Conservative Future, has had several prominent Croydon Tories among its officials. But Conservative Future’s own future is under a cloud while an investigation is conducted into its role, if any, in the death last September of 21-year-old member Elliot Johnson.
Undeterred by the on-going investigation, Barwell has been out on the stump this month with the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group, campaigning on behalf of Steve O’Connell as the local candidate for the London Assembly, and “BackZacAndCrack” Goldsmith, the Tories’ Old Etonian replacement for Boris Johnson as London Mayor.
A month ago – just before Christmas, so possibly timed in the hope that as few people as possible would notice – two of the most senior Conservative Way Forward officials announced their resignations.
Donal Blaney resigned as chairman of Conservative Way Forward. Blaney has been described as “a former ally of Mark Clarke”.
Paul Abbott quit as Conservative Way Forward’s chief executive. Abbott had previously worked with the former Tory chairman Grant Shapps, who was forced to resign as a Government minister over the Clarke affair.
Other figures within the party, and former Conservative Future officials, have claimed that Central Office had been made aware of concerns over members’ behaviour on RoadTrips going back to 2010. Clarke, meanwhile, has denied all accusations of bullying.
Blaney said he was resigning to look after his ill wife, and a Conservative Party spokesman stated, “There is and can be no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Donal.” Conservative Way Forward’s chief executive, Paul Abbott, also resigned. Abbott had been one of those who encouraged Elliott Johnson to complain about Clarke’s conduct.
The investigation into the affair set up by the Conservatives, ostensibly independent of the party, appears to be struggling for witnesses, with at least nine former activists and officials reportedly refusing to give evidence amid fears their identities could be revealed, while seven alleged bullying victims are boycotting the inquiry.
Their concerns arise because it has also been reported that Conservative Central Office passed confidential personal data of party members to Clarke, who used it to send emails and messages on social media to young Tories to support RoadTrip as it sought to put “boots on the ground” in marginal constituencies, such as Barwell’s Croydon Central seat.
Clarke has been accused of creating a wild atmosphere after RoadTrip events and having sex with young members. He has also been accused of sending intimidating Facebook messages to young members.
The revelation that Clarke was handed contact details of Conservative members poses questions about the party’s usage of its members’ data, and may have breached the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
The cavalier attitude towards data protection laws appears to run deep and long within the Conservative Party.
Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader may recall that, four years ago, the Information Commssioner ruled that Barwell, himself a previous Tory Central Office staffer, had broken the law when he passed on his constituents’ personal contact details for Boris Johnson to use in the last Mayoral election campaign.
No wonder, then, that despite the Tatler Tory scandal, Barwell appears quite so comfortable to continue to enlist the help of his Thatcherite mates.
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