Nick Boles is MP for Grantham and Stamford, and is a Minister of State jointly for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education.
The death of Elliott Johnson is an appalling tragedy. That any young man with everything to live for should decide to take his own life is awful. That someone who devoted so much time, energy and idealism to the Conservative cause might have felt driven to it by the treatment he suffered at the hands of other Conservative activists grieves and shames us all. The anguish of his parents is unimaginable.
But the death of one good man will not be assuaged by giving into a media witch hunt and forcing another good man to resign. The BBC claims to be a standard bearer for objective and well-sourced reporting. So it’s frankly extraordinary that earlier this week it allowed Newsnight and then Today to lead with a story about a dossier which apparently they have not even seen, and broadcast one man’s claim that it was shown to Lord Feldman in 2010 without any corroborating evidence to back his assertion up.
Having hemmorraged its best reporters in recent weeks, Newsnight is a sinking ship trying desperately to reassert its political relevance. But let’s not stoop to its level. The BBC may be willing to compromise its standards; we should not.
Our Party is a great democratic institution. We believe in the rule of law and due process. We must insist on a transparent and impartial investigation into what happened, and demand that responsibility for any failures or negligence is assigned after it is complete, not before. That is why the Party is cooperating fully with the coroner – and why it was right for the Party Board both to ask the law firm Clifford Chance to take full control of the investigation, and also ask David Pannick, the impeccably independent crossbench peer and QC to certify that it is ‘objective, appropriate and comprehensive’.
Andrew Feldman has done the Party great service ever since he was first appointed as its Chief Executive. He has taken an institution with massive debts, and an unwise reliance on the largesse of a few individuals, and moved it into a position of robust financial health, from which it was then able to launch the campaign which won us our first parliamentary majority since 1992.
He occupied the role of co-chairman with a quality that is rare in politics: self-effacement. And as a result, he formed good working relationships with both Sayeeda Warsi and Grant Shapps. He was always happy for them to be the public face and voice of the Party, and to take the lead on grassroots campaigning and engagement with the voluntary party while he focused on managing the organisation of paid professionals and raising the money to fund it. This is a man who respects those who hold elected office, but has never wished to become one of them – or compete with them for profile or airtime.
Any fair-minded observer would acknowledge that Lord Feldman’s contribution to the Conservative Party’s current political ascendancy is huge. The Party fought an efficient and superbly effective campaign. It employed the best people in CCHQ and in the key target seats. It devised the best strategy and, by sticking to it, delivered a truly stunning set of results. None of this would have been possible without him.
We will do nothing for Elliott Johnson by hounding Andrew Feldman out of his job. We will simply be adding an injustice to the heart-breaking situation in which an idealistic young man so despaired of his life that he decided to end it.