Published by Daily Mail
“He has not apologised to Howard Flight or to Arundel and South Downs. For that matter, he has never apologised to Boris Johnson over Liverpool, to Danny Kruger over Sedgefield, or Adrian Hilton, in Slough” wrote William Rees-Mogg of Michael Howard in The Times following the 2005 General Election, just after the ‘something-of-the-night’ autocrat had spilt rather a lot of blood after a tyrannical sacking spree.
You may recall that Boris had accused Liverpudlians of wallowing in their ‘victim status’ following the murder of Ken Bigley. Danny Kruger had invoked the Schumpterian doctrine of ‘creative destruction’ of the public services. And I’d had the audacity to defend the Protestant Constitution and the Act of Settlement in The Spectator two years before, in articles which had been commissioned by Boris and approved by the then chief whip David Maclean. As a consequence, we were all publicly humiliated, demoted or summarily dispensed with.
All of this would be water under the bridge, except for the leitmotifs in the recent case of Peter Cruddas. David Cameron’s disgraceful treatment of the former Conservative Party Treasurer brings the trials and tribulations of 2005 flooding back. Despite all the modernisers’ trendy rebranding and systematic detoxification of the Tory brand, something ‘nasty’ still lurks in the substructure.
Peter Cruddas had the misfortune to be selected for assassination by a couple of manipulative Sunday Times journalists – Insight editor Jonathan Calvert and reporter Heidi Blake – who were intent on spilling some more Tory blood. In a very carefully-laid trap, they lured Mr Cruddas into a meeting to discuss how they might donate funds to the Conservative Party, and what favours (ie influence over policy) they might expect in return.
The conversation was covertly recorded, and the whole country heard next day how the wealthy could donate their millions to the party and then be invited for Parma-ham canapés with the Prime Minister who would then listen very intently indeed to their plans to make the rich richer.
It was a devastating subversive sting, which went to the very heart of democracy and the Conservative Party’s integrity. As a consequence of these revelations, David Cameron poured scorn over Peter Cruddas, CCHQ disowned him and the Party Board dropped him faster than a manifesto pledge.
But Calvert and Blake had lied. Their story has now been judged in the High Court to have been inaccurate, misleading and malicious. Mr Justice Tugendhat said he found the conduct of the defendants in contesting the action ‘offensive’. And so Peter Cruddas has been awarded damages of £180,000 for libel (including £15,000 for aggravated damages).
This is a tidy sum, but it is scant compensation for 16 months of emotional, social and political purgatory. “I was constructively dismissed from my role as party treasurer,” said Mr Cruddas, “and made to feel like an outcast as the Prime Minister and the party lined up to criticise me on television and radio. This hurt me immensely and further damaged my reputation.”
The truth is that Peter Cruddas – a hard-working, loyal, charitable, self-made millionaire – behaved impeccably in his role as Conservative Party Treasurer. His ‘great personal distress’ at the hands of Sunday Times’ journalists was palpably exacerbated, according to Mr Justice Tugendhat, by the ‘massive public humiliation’ inflicted on him by the Prime Minister.
Had Mr Cruddas been a personal friend of David Cameron’s – or attended the right school followed by a proper university – doubtless he would have received unwavering support. But he was not part of the elite: he is the son of an alcoholic taxi-driver from Hackney, who lived on a council estate and left school with no qualifications. He became a lowly bank clerk, and worked hard to become a self-made millionaire. No privilege, no power, no influential contacts.
When powerful and influential newspapers are intent on trashing your good name and reputation, it helps if you’ve been to Eton or played tennis at Brasenose.
Perhaps Peter Cruddas was naïve in expecting political loyalty and years of dedicated service to be repaid. It is a gentlemanly social contract; the honourable way for honourable members to treat each other, especially when we are concerned with the voluntary side of political engagement. After all, what is the point of volunteering one’s expertise, time and money to the Conservative Party if there is not the least expectation of natural justice, civility or even courtesy in return? Lord Ashcroft encapsulates what ought to be innate: “Surely the instincts of our Party should always be to stand by one of its own until it has been proved that an individual has acted illegally or improperly even if it may be politically appropriate in certain circumstances to suspend someone pending an outcome.”
But David Cameron wasn’t interested in Peter Cruddas’ version of events, and neither was a deficient CCHQ or the omnipotent Party Board. And so a loyal philanthropist was forced to resign his voluntary position without fair hearing, in contravention of the party’s own constitution which demands natural justice. He was subsequently ostracised by senior party figures (with the exception of Michael Gove – which is curious because he was one of the few to stand by me in 2005). According to Lord Ashcroft, Mr Cruddas has received no party invitations from his former colleagues since his resignation. I can’t put it better than Charles Moore, who observed: “What bastards they can be.”
Justice has now been seen to be done in the High Court, but it has not been done in the Conservative Party, nor is it likely to be. Unlike under the lawyerly leadership of Margaret Thatcher and the appreciative chairmanship of Norman Tebbit, Tory pathology is now geared to auto-rebuttal of the merest whiff of embarrassment, and summary rejection of minor irritants and contaminants. The head used to appreciate the little finger: now it declares imperiously to the whole hand that we have no need of you, even as its palms cradle the most honoured part of the body and wipe the sweat from its brow. Under Cameron, the Conservative Party’s fingers, toes, arms and legs are being cut off and cast away by executive decree. And those that can’t be are isolated and monitored in a secure ward, as if infected with the incurable plague of the swivel-eyed loons.
The Prime Minister will not apologise, for he views such public expressions of remorse not as chivalrous acts of charity but political weakness. He clearly over-reacted to scurrilous gossip in a vindictive rag, but the elite mind is blind to the failings of the elect.
Some are surprised that Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party co-Chairman, has refused to apologise no fewer than seven times. I’m not. He is beholden to the Prime Minister for his job, and his career depends on sustained expressions of loyalty. The only solution to such aloof indifference is for the Chairman of the Conservative Party – who is supposed to defend the rights and represent the views of the wider membership – to be directly elected by that membership. Indeed, had Peter Cruddas been working with a directly-elected party chairman, and had he himself been directly elected by the wider membership, neither the Prime Minister nor the Party Board would have been able to act in the peremptory fashion they did. Such separation of powers, shared responsibility and mutual accountability are better guarantors of justice than the highly-centralised, disdainful and unresponsive party machine over which David Cameron currently presides.
But a directly-elected Conservative Party chairman and treasurer aren’t going to happen any time soon. Not while the infallible elite dispense perfect justice with matchless precision and know what’s best.