David Cameron invited 'Tatler Tory' Mark Clarke to tea party at Chequers

Exclusive: PM invited now disgraced activist to reception, which was cancelled when Tories began bullying investigation

Simon Usborne
Monday 23 November 2015 19:30 GMT
John Major conceding the 1997 General Election in a speech at Smiths Square. Pictured on the left is Mark Clarke
John Major conceding the 1997 General Election in a speech at Smiths Square. Pictured on the left is Mark Clarke (Youtube grab from ITV footage)

David Cameron invited the so-called “Tatler Tory” Mark Clarke to a tea party at his country retreat to celebrate the success of the now disgraced activist’s general election campaign project.

The Independent has seen an invitation to the party at Chequers sent by the Prime Minister in July to dozens of young activists. Many of them were bussed across the country as part of Mr Clarke’s official Road Trip campaign.

The reception, scheduled for early September, was then cancelled in August as the Conservatives began its investigation into allegations of bullying, blackmail, extortion and sexual harassment against Mr Clarke, all of which he strongly denies.

Tory officials have insisted the party only became aware of the allegations in August following a slew of complaints by young activists including Elliot Johnson. The 21 year old’s suicide in September is still being investigated by police and the coroner.

But Mr Johnson’s father, Ray, and the Conservative MP Ben Howlett claim that successive party chairs, including Grant Shapps and the incumbent Lord Feldman, have been aware of Mr Clarke’s reputation for years.

“We’ve complained about him [Clarke] for a long period of time,” Mr Howlett told BBC Newsnight last week. The MP for Bath and a former chair of Conservative Future, the Party’s youth wing, said senior officials had failed to challenge a culture of “institutionalised bullying” in its activist ranks.

Grant Shapps had apparently been instrumental in promoting Mark Clarke to the heart of Conservative election machine (Getty)

 Grant Shapps had apparently been instrumental in promoting Mark Clarke to the heart of Conservative election machine (Getty)
 (Getty Images)

As the invitation comes to light, The Independent can also reveal the duration of Mr Clarke’s desire to be close to power. In footage of a speech John Major gave to activists on the night of Conservative defeat to Labour in 1997, a young Clarke positions himself just behind the former Prime Minister.

By 2006, he was chairman of Conservative Future, and a year later became the party’s candidate for Tooting for the 2010 general election. After his defeat the party removed him from its list of approved candidates following allegations of impropriety.

A former figure in Conservative headquarters told The Independent that complaints about Mr Clarke’s behaviour were made last year – and claimed allegations about his conduct were kept in his candidate file.

Yet after this year’s election, the party approved Mr Clarke’s directorship of the new Road Trip 2020 campaign. It was chaired by Baroness Pidding, the former chair of the Conservative National Convention.

In July this year, days before the tea party invitations landed on doormats, David Cameron expressed his support for Mr Clarke’s new campaign at a National Convention meeting. Baroness Pidding and Mr Shapps are due to be questioned as part of the party’s inquiry, launched by Lord Feldman. All three figures deny having been aware of the mounting allegations against Mr Clarke.

In Mr Johnson’s suicide note, the activist had named Mr Clarke and his associate Andre Walker. “I have been bullied by Mark Clarke and betrayed by Andre Walker”, he wrote. Days earlier, Mr Johnson had made a secret tape recording of the men while they allegedly threatened him for making a complaint against Mr Clarke.

A focus for the party’s and the police investigation is the claim made by several activists that Mr Clarke was able to heap pressure on them after being tipped off about complaints against him.

The Party suspended Mr Clarke following Mr Johnson’s death and banned him permanently last week. Mr Walker, a former party aide who resigned in 2010 after a video revealed him threatening to “inject poison” into the career of a council deputy leader, has also denied wrongdoing.

Downing Street has confirmed that Mr Clarke had been invited to the tea party. The Conservative Party said it not been aware of allegations against Mr Clarke before August. “We have been unable to find any written complaints of bullying, harassment or any other inappropriate behaviour during this period that were not dealt with,” a statement read.

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