30 November 2015

Don’t fire Feldman


They are warming the tar and feathers for Lord Feldman, chairman of the Conservative party. The mob is gathered outside Conservative Campaign Headquarters, over the “bullying scandal”. Is it too late to hope that wiser counsel and calm heads prevail?

Feldman’s critics make one good point so far, that under his chairmanship Conservative party membership has indeed declined sharply. This is indeed regrettable, which is perhaps why he has been conducting a wide-ranging review of how to turn it around. But in most other respects his critics are wide of the mark.

First, the bullying scandal. No evidence has so far been produced that Feldman knew about Mark Clarke’s antics. It is possible that he heard some tales about rowdiness, but malicious tales are commonplace in politics and do not constitute a complaint. It is also nonsense that there is not an independent inquiry into the tragic death of Elliot Johnson. On the contrary, there is a Coroner’s Inquest, a police investigation, and now one by Clifford Chance.

Second, Feldman’s crucial role in the election victory. His initiative was not RoadTrip 2015, which made a trivial contribution. That was the plaything of Grant Shapps. (Incidentally, most of the Roadtrippers were in their 20s and not “youths”).

Feldman presided over the far more important 40:40 Seats campaign. He put professional organisers and campaigners into the 40 seats the Tories had to retain and the 40 they had to win, 18 months before the election. This was the decisive move in the “ground war”, not RoadTrip 2015.

Third, money. It is forgotten that when David Cameron took over as leader of the Conservative Party, it was millions of pounds in debt and effectively in hock to Lord Ashcroft. That was unsustainable and Feldman has transformed the Conservative Party into a free standing, solvent organisation. Some of his fundraising dinners are admittedly a little unedifying, but the money has to come from somewhere. Coffee mornings just won’t do it.

Fourth, the party conference. It is a myth that, as some claim, the party conference is only inhabited by lobbyists and journalists. In 2006, only 3,500 people attended. This year there were 11,000 there and it has turned into a profitable venture staged in important cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.

Fifth, character. Those who criticise Feldman also fail to recognise that he is one of the more sensible voices in Cameron’s ear. He is not especially interested in the scuttlebutt of Westminster, such as “modernisers”, blogs, twitter, who is in, who is out etc. He is a pro-business, sensible, intelligent small ‘c’ conservative.

Which leads to my final point. To somebody like me, who does not dwell in the alleyways of Westminster, this row over the bullying scandal reads very much like a campaign to undermine the Prime Minister, via his “pal”. If it goes on much longer, an argument will be advanced that Lord Feldman must go to “clear the air”. That would, in my view, be a pity and be a victory for a style of politics which elevates activists and their fetid world above the electorate and the country at large.

George Trefgarne is founder of Boscobel & Partners, a communications firm.