Westminster Tories 'hired activists'

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The Independent Online
FAR-RIGHT activists have been hired by Conservatives controlling Westminster City Council, London's richest borough, to boost their flagging electoral fortunes.

Some Conservative councillors are voicing fears about the use of the activists, some of whom formerly led the Federation of Conservative Students - an organisation abolished by Conservative Central Office in 1987 because of its right-wing activities. It is not clear who is paying their wages.

Westminster Council is led by Lady Porter, who today faces a council motion of no confidence over the sale of three cemeteries for pounds 1. The vote could be lost if Tory dissenters desert her.

One Westminster Tory councillor said yesterday of the hired activists: 'A number of us are very concerned about these people. They are now frequently attending private meetings. We don't know who is paying them. If you try to bring the subject up it immediately brings the spotlight on you as being anti-Shirley Porter.'

A Conservative Party official said: 'There is concern that a shadow organisation has been set up using outside activists. What is unusual is the scale on which people have been brought in and individually funded.'

The latest claims follow allegations last week by the BBC programme Panorama that Conservatives in Westminster have gerrymandered votes. The documentary unearthed confidential documents showing the Tories have concentrated council flat sales and a clean-up campaign in marginal wards to bring in potential Conservative voters.

The group recruited to support the Westminster Tories is called Marketforce Communications. Privately-funded, it deals with the Press and produces publicity in marginal council wards, where Labour victories in 1990 could give it control of the council.

Donald Stewart, agent for the local Tory MP, PETER Brooke - now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - complained when material bearing his name was published without his approval.

Marketforce directors include PETER CLARKE, who stepped down as Conservative Parliamentary candidate for East Lothian after calling for the school leaving age to be cut to 12 and the legalisation of incest. Another director, Mark MacGregor, is a former FCS chairman.

Lady Porter's Tory group recruited Marketforce after Mr Brooke, who was then national chairman of the Tory party, last year disapproved of a plan for the local party to hire five activists to prepare a 'dirty tricks' campaign against the local Labour party.

David Saunders, another former FCS Marketforce employee, said yesterday: 'We were called in to issue press releases and so on because the council has difficulty saying anything political.'

Lady Porter's office said she had returned from holiday, but declined to speak to the Press.

UNDERTAKING GIVEN TO THE HIGH COURT BY NEWSPAPER PUBLISHING PLC ON THE 18 JUNE 1992:

Newspaper Publishing plc shall not by themselves, their servants, agents or otherwise howsoever publish or cause to be published the allegation that Peter Clarke had called for the legalisation of incest or any similar words defamatory of Peter Clarke to the effect that he supported incest, or the decriminalisation or legalisation thereof, or had permitted himself to become publicly identified with calls for the legalisation of incest.

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