Members of the East Staffordshire Conservative Association have received a letter, dated 1st November, from Lord Hunt, the former Cabinet Minister. I’ve enclosed the full text of that letter below.

Hunt explains he is writing as an “independent person”, appointed by the Conservative Party Board to supervise how the association settles on its candidate at the forthcoming election. That’s a highly unusual circumstance, brought about because the incumbent Burton MP, Andrew Griffiths, has been enmeshed in a controversy since July 2018 relating to allegations of sexual misconduct after a newspaper reported that he had sent a large number of explicit text messages to two female constituents. Readers may recall that the Whip was withdrawn, only to be restored shortly before the confidence vote faced by Theresa May last December.

Since then, there appears to have been a breakdown in the MP-association relationship. Back in March of this year, the association AGM passed a vote of no confidence in Griffiths, and its executive resolved to require him to apply early for readoption – apparently an attempt at accelerating the process of deciding not to reselect him as their candidate.

Hunt appears to have been appointed now because in September the Parliamentary Commissioner Standards cleared Griffiths of breaching the Parliamentary Code. In short, there’s no dispute that the messages were sent, but, firstly, the Commissioner “found no evidence that Mr Griffiths used House-provided resources when sending” them and, second, “I am not persuaded that the texts…caused significant damage to the reputation of the House of Commons”.

In her report, the Commissioner also reviewed medical evidence that Griffiths was suffering a mental health crisis at the time the messages were sent and reports that the internal Conservative Party disciplinary hearing “concluded that his conduct ‘may have breached’ the party’s code of conduct [but] in light of his mental health they had decided it would not be appropriate to take any further disciplinary action”.

It’s on that basis that Griffiths is now seeking readoption, and the Board’s appointment of a prominent supervisor for the process presumably reflects an awareness of how controversial that debate might be locally.

Hunt’s letter announces that the readoption meeting, with a yes/no vote, will take place on 11th November, and includes the medical context. It also features a line that “this Conservative government has championed a much more enlightened approach to mental health, so it is vitally important the Conservative Party itself lives up to, or exceeds, the standards we expect from others”, which could be read as a not very subtle message about the outcome the Party desires from the ballot. If members reject Griffiths, another general meeting will be held the day after, presumably to select a new candidate.

Oddly, it also requests that party members register to attend the readoption meeting – a condition that I’m not aware is actually required under party rules. So far as I know, any member can simply turn up to a General Meeting of their association, so I’m not sure why registration is proposed in this instance.

I’ve enclosed the full text:

Dear Member

Proposed re-adoption of Andrew Griffiths MP

The Board of the Conservative Party has decided that “any processes undertaken by the East Staffordshire Association in connection with the selection of a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate must be supervised by an independent person” and has appointed me to undertake that role. I have been asked now to write to you personally to explain the processes which will be followed.

You will no doubt be aware of press comments and speculation about Andrew Griffiths, following complaints that were made some time ago to the House of Commons Standards Committee.

Following the receipt of medical evidence by an eminent doctor, the House of Commons Standards Committee commissioned a report which was completed by a professor of psychiatry. The report concluded that Andrew had been suffering from mental health problems at the time of the incidents concerned; and fully exonerated him. Following treatment, that same doctor now considers Andrew fully fit to resume his duties.

As I hope you are already aware, this Conservative Government has championed a much more enlightened approach to mental health, so it is vitally important the Conservative Party itself lives up to, or exceeds, the standards we expect from others.

On the basis that Andrew is fit and well again, the Conservative Party Board has decided that the East Staffordshire Association may now proceed to consider Andrew for re-adoption as parliamentary candidate for Burton at the general election.  

As we are now in a general election period there is a shortened process for Associations. 

You are therefore invited to a Special General Meeting of the East Staffordshire Association to be held on Monday 11th November at 7pm.  The venue will be:  [redacted]

There will be one item on the agenda:

  • Application from Andrew Griffiths MP to be adopted as the Conservative Candidate for East Staffordshire. The Member of Parliament will address the meeting.

I will chair the meeting and there will be a straightforward yes/no vote of all members present on the agenda item. Please note that only members who have been paid up for the three months preceding the date of the meeting are eligible to vote. 

If necessary, a second general meeting will be held in the evening of the 12th November. 

Should you wish to attend please register by contacting Jayne West on:

Email – [redacted]

Tel: [redacted]

Yours faithfully

Lord Hunt of Wirral

On behalf of the Conservative Party Board