The essence of an independent inquiry is that it has the power to send for documents, to interview witnesses and to have full access to all relevant information. And it is usually best for such a body to publish a report. Does CCHQ’s inquiry into the Mark Clarke allegations meet this standard?
The Party’s position when the inquiry was announced about a fortnight ago was that the inquiry would be run by CCHQ, but be subject to an external audit by Simon Davis of Clifford Chance. This appeared to be a check of whether or not the inquiry processes had been in order – no more, no less.
Yesterday, in the wake of the call of Elliott Johnson’s father, Ray Johnson, for a fully independent inquiry, the Party seemed to shift its position. Clifford Chance will offer a view of the inquiry’s finding to the Party Board, identify any people who were at fault, and pronounce on whether a further inquiry is necessary.
It will also “make recommendations to the Board on measures that should be taken to strengthen existing processes”. Subject to “protecting vulnerable witnesses, the ongoing Coroner’s inquiry and police investigation…the Party intends to publish the key findings and recommendations.” All this is progress. In particular, it is welcome that at least some parts of Clifford Chance’s report will be published.
However, the inquiry appears still to fail the standard of independence set out earlier. There is no suggestion that Clifford Chance will itself be able to send for documents, since its role is described as reviewing “the process of interviews and information gathering undertaken to establish the facts, to determine whether the decisions taken as to the collection of documents and the witnesses to be interviewed were reasonable in all the circumstances.” Furthermore, there is no sign that Clifford Chance will have the power to interview witnesses. Today’s Daily Telegraph reports that party officials will take “written statements from around 40 “witnesses” including Lord Feldman”.
It will clearly be unsatisfactory if Lord Feldman and others are not interviewed at all, and that he himself will submit evidence not to an independent person, but to people who report to him. There are signs that some Board members are unhappy. One is quoted in the Times (£) as saying that any inquiry must satisfy Elliott Johnson’s parents: “I don’t think [Tory headquarters] can have an inquiry that we know is going to be dismissed.”
In the Guardian, Charles Walker says that there are questions that must be answered. This is a reminder of the important role of its three independent 1922 Committee Executive members – Walker, Graham Brady (the Executive’s Chairman) and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. Bernard Jenkin calls for a full governance review of the Party.
All in all, there are three simple tests for CCHQ’s proposed inquiry. It should have the power –
- To send for documents (and not just examine those presented to it by CCHQ).
- To take written evidence directly and to interview witnesses.
- To have the full run of CCHQ – including access to computer records.
We said yesterday that the Party cannot be allowed to mark its own homework – to which CCHQ would doubtless reply that Davis and his team will be doing the marking. But in that case, to follow the figure of speech, Davis needs to be able to see the pupils’ textbooks – not just selected extracts from them – and quiz them about their work. At present, this doesn’t appear to be the case. That won’t satisfy the Johnsons. It shouldn’t be enough for the Board, either.