I reported last week that Andrew Griffiths had been given the green light by the Conservative Party Board to seek re-adoption as the candidate for Burton. The very announcement seemed to herald some controversy – made as it was by Lord Hunt, who in a very unusual step has been appointed as an independent supervisor of the process.
Griffiths had been no confidenced by his association, and asked to apply for readoption early (an ominous sign) by the local executive, following a high profile scandal relating to sexually explicit text messages. The Party Board is evidently of the opinion that extenuating circumstances which have since come to light relating to his mental health are persuasive, and that the MP should be readopted.
The anticipated discontent has now broken out. I’ve received a copy of a letter (which I reproduce in full below) sent to Lord Hunt by Cllr Duncan Goodfellow, the Leader of East Staffordshire Borough Council in which he alleges that despite being appointed as an “independent person”, he “could quite easily be seen as seeking to fetter the independent and impartial decision of members”.
Goodfellow objects to Hunt’s letter giving an “appearance of partiality”, arguing that it “to a third party could quite obviously appear to be “supporting” Mr Griffiths’ candidature”.
He also questions the accuracy of Hunt’s assertions that Griffiths has been “fully exonerated”, and suggests that “if the use of such a term is not specifically referred to in an official publication, I would personally consider your use of it to be unfair and prejudicial to the decision facing members on the 11th November.”
In addition, it seems Goodfellow has noticed the same oddity that caught my attention last week: Hunt told members they would need to register to attend the Special General Meeting that will vote on Griffiths’ future. I can’t see any basis for that requirement in the Party’s constitution.
Technically, the letter constitutes a formal complaint, which may or may not go anywhere – I am sure that Hunt and the Party would strongly deny any claims of partiality, lack of independence or prejudicial actions. But if this correspondence is any sort of measure of opinion in the local association it seems tonight’s meeting is going to be rocky.
East Staffordshire Council Leader’s letter about the Andrew Griffiths readoption vote
Dear Lord Hunt,
Thank you for your letter of today’s date concerning the proposed re-adoption of Andrew Griffiths MP.
I am writing to express my extreme surprise at the content of this letter, and to formally complain about its appearance of partiality in this process.
As you point out in your opening paragraph, you have been asked by the party board to supervise this process as an “independent person”. I am therefore completely at a loss to understand why the letter simply does not invite members of the association to a re-adoption meeting and set out the process of that meeting.
Paragraphs two, three and four in their entirety are completely immaterial to the calling of such a meeting, and to a third party could quite obviously appear to be “supporting” Mr Griffiths’ candidature. Even if you were to agree that facts around Mr Griffiths’ mental health were relevant to include in this letter, the inclusion of whether or not his medical practitioners were “eminent” for example is entirely without reasonable merit and could only be seen as being included to support Mr Griffiths. The Conservative Party’s approach to Mental Health is also completely irrelevant, and again your suggestion around ‘exceeding standards’ could quite easily be seen as seeking to fetter the independent and impartial decision of members.
Having considered the content of your letter, I should also like some clarity of the accuracy of the statements that you have made. You state that 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”. Can you please confirm whether you are referring to a complaint not upheld by Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards or to something different? Can you please also point to any such publication which uses the words “fully exonerated”. If the use of such a term is not specifically referred to in an official publication, I would personally consider your use of it to be unfair and prejudicial to the decision facing members on the 11th November.
I am formally requesting that you urgently issue a further letter of retraction clarifying the position and asking members to completely disregard anything other than the fact that a meeting has been called and that a vote will be held. It would also be helpful to outline how the meeting will be conducted (statements, questions, timings, process etc), which is what I would have expected such a letter to include.
In addition, I should also appreciate some clarity around the calling of this SGM, and those entitled to attend and to vote. Your letter requests registration – are you then by implication refusing entry to any fully paid up member who has not previously registered? Similarly you mention the potential need for a further meeting on the 12th November – although you do not state the reason for this (I assume it is in the event that Mr Griffiths is not readopted). Is your letter also a formal notice of that meeting, and similarly would registration be required? Are you formally calling this 2nd meeting, or would you intend to call a meeting on the 11th November with less than 24 hours notice? Are these meetings being called in line with any constitutional requirements?
Whilst I have made public that I do not support Mr Griffiths’ candidature, my comments here are in no way related to my personal opinion, but solely to the independence and impartiality of this process which would appear to have been considerably damaged by the content of your letter.
I am more than happy to discuss this matter further should you wish to do so.