It was reported today that CCHQ is continuing its internal inquiry into the Mark Clarke allegations, and that it has ordered a new external audit once this has been completed. CCHQ sources have now told ConservativeHome that until this week its investigation into the claims has been in the context of a disciplinary hearing against Clarke – and in that context only. This hearing and the Legarde inquiry are therefore one and the same, and since Clarke has been expelled the latter is therefore closed.
However, CCHQ decided at the time of the explusion that the external audit will take the form of an inquiry led by Simon Davis of Clifford Chance. This will report to the Party Board when its evidence-taking is complete. CCHQ has not ruled out publishing Davis’s findings, but says that it won’t do so if, in its view, publication would prejudice either the coroner’s inquiry or any police inquiry. The police have been taking evidence from multiple witnesses looking at possible criminality.
The nub of this development is that it confirms that, until this week, there has been no CCHQ inquiry into anything other than Mark Clarke – in other words, into the practices and culture of RoadTrip 15, parts of Conservative Future and (it is claimed) parts of CCHQ and the voluntary party.
CCHQ is adamant that during the summer it received a complaint against Clarke – not allegations against other people, or allegations with wider implications – that it acted on it promptly, and that Andrew Feldman was unaware at that time, and before it, of either other complaints against Clarke or of the wider questions to which I refer. Ben Howlett has claimed on Newsnight that CCHQ was well aware of other complaints. If he is right, it can be argued that if Lord Feldman didn’t know, then he certainly should have known.
Some will also maintain that the Party has been negligent in only arranging this external audit – in effect a wider inquiry – this week, and that it has acted only because of media pressure. Be that as it may, our conclusion remains the same as earlier today and yesterday. It will take time for this wider inquiry to complete its evidence-gathering. However, it should report as soon as possible. And its report should be made public. Timing is one thing, given the coroner’s and police enquiries. But the principle stands.