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Tory youth wing bullying complaints 'swept under carpet' - MP

Published 19/11/2015

The Tory party's youth wing has been suspended amid allegations of institutionalised bullying
The Tory party's youth wing has been suspended amid allegations of institutionalised bullying

The Conservative Party has suspended the national committee of its youth wing amid claims that complaints of "institutionalised bullying" within the organisation were repeatedly ignored.

The move follows claims by a former chairman of Conservative Future that he repeatedly raised concerns with the party high command but the issue was "swept under the carpet".

Earlier the party announced that a senior aide, Mark Clarke, who is facing complaints of bullying and inappropriate behaviour, had his membership cancelled for life.

Mr Clarke - who strongly denies the allegations - had previously been suspended following claims that he had bullied a young activist, Elliott Johnson, who subsequently took his own life.

Further allegations about Mr Clarke, who ran the RoadTrip2015 campaign which mobilised young activists to lobby in marginalised constituencies, surfaced in the press over the weekend.

But Ben Howlett, a former Conservative Future chairman, has said he raised concerns about what he described as "institutionalised bullying" with Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) over a period of years, but they were consistently ignored.

Mr Howlett, who was elected MP for Bath at the general election in May, told BBC2's Newsnight that there had been "huge range of complaints" - including inappropriate advances to women activists.

"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," he said.

He added: "We've complained about him (Mr 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 (current chairman) Lord Feldman has been well aware of all this, for a very long period of time.

"He backed me up on this which I was pleased about but effectively somewhere along the lines all of those complaints about him and others in the Conservative Party had somewhat been distanced and ignored."

In a statement, a Conservative Party spokesman said: "The national committee of Conservative Future has been suspended further to a decision by the board of the Conservative Party."

Earlier the party had announced the Mr Clarke had been given a lifetime ban from party membership.

"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," a spokesman said.

"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 relation 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."

Mr Clarke told Newsnight he denied the allegations against him.

He said in a statement: "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."

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