Andrew Feldman raised the funds for David Cameron’s leadership election campaign, and was made Chief Executive of the Conservative Party after it was won. He was appointed co-Chairman of the Party with Sayeeda Warsi after it entered government, and the functionality of the appointments was clear. Warsi would be front of house, communicating the Tory case, as a Muslim ethnic minority woman. Feldman would be back of house, overseeing and running the Party, and chairing its Board.
In short, the Prime Minister’s friend from Brasenose and fund-raiser for the Conservative leadership would become his man in CCHQ – with seniority over everyone else. This was an unconventional arrangement. In modern times, Party Chairman have usually been MPs, in touch with the shifts and swells of opinion in the Parliamentary Party, and often major players in their own right: Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit, Chris Patten, Kenneth Baker. And those peers appointed to the post have had heavyweight political experience and held real authority: Peter Carrington, Peter Thorneycroft.
All this illustrates the Lord Feldman paradox. Peer or MP, the Party Chairman should not be in the Party leader’s pocket, which Feldman undoubtedly was on appointment. His continuing service as Chairman is the biggest single illustration of a lack of balance and collegiality at its top. A majority of our Party member readers seem to agree: in a recent survey, over half of them said that the post should now be an elected one.
None the less, he has not only got the Party back into the black – a real achievement in itself – but has turned out to be a better politician than most of the current crop of elected ones. Whatever he said or didn’t say about “swivel-eyed loons”, he has a real feeling for Party members and, after the best part of ten years of knocking around CCHQ, a sophisticated grasp of their hopes, wants and fears. Members that he talks to like him and he likes them.
However, the tragic suicide of Elliot Johnson, and the allegations that have followed it, are shining a spotlight both on that questionmark over his legitimacy as Chairman and on the seniority that he held in the post during the last Parliament. The long and short of the gathering storm over the rehabilitation of Mark Clarke is that blame is being dumped at the door of Grant Shapps. This was the implication of the statement issued by the Party when Clarke was expelled, which said that all groups affiliated to the Party must now “formally adopt the harassment and anti-bullying policy of CCHQ”.
The suggestion of these words and the briefing that has followed is that Shapps, who succeeded Warsi as the junior partner to Feldman as Chairman, was eager to carve out a role for himself that would play to his campaigning strengths and boost the election campaign on which Downing Street was fixated. According to this version of events, Clarke’s RoadTrip venture, and the critical mass of young volunteers it it offered, represented an opportunity that Shapps was simply unable to resist.
Keen to make his mark, he therefore cut a crucial ethical corner by conferring prestige and seniority on a man who had been removed from the candidates’ list, and against whom a mass of serious claims were continuing to be made – or so this narrative runs. As Mark Wallace’s authoritative account of the CCHQ election campaign on this site confirms, it is undoubtedly the case that Shapps was the main internal force in first encouraging RoadTrip 2015 and then later integrating it into Team2015 (a decision that can be read as CCHQ wanting to get Clarke’s project under its own control).
Furthermore, Shapps is in a weak position internally and Feldman in a strong one. The former was demoted post-election; the latter is a senior member of Team Cameron. But whoever championed Clarke’s cause at CCHQ, whatever he may have done and however CCHQ responded, the buck stops not with Shapps but with Feldman. He is now the sole Chairman of the Party. He was the real Chairman before last May. Responsibility for the Party’s response to the claims thus lies at his door.
It is reported that the Legarde Report into the claims continues, and that there will be an external audit of it when completed. These are welcome developments. ConservativeHome wrote yesterday that the Legarde Report into the allegations should be completed as soon as possible, that the expulsion of Clarke would not quiet the media storm about them, and that it is in the Party’s own interest for the report to be published. That advice was to the point 24 hours ago. It is more so this morning. It may be even more pressing by the close of the weekend.