Thursday, 7 August 2008

Balkan spite and malevolence - in Watford?

For a long time I had been aware that Federal Policy Committee colleague Sal Brinton had been the personal target of a harassment campaign in Watford, where she is Lib Dem PPC. It must have been a horrible experience and she has my heartfelt sympathy. Ian Oakley, the Tory PPC – as he was until unmasked by undeniable evidence – has now pleaded guilty to multiple offences, and they are repulsive. There is an almost Balkan intensity to the spite and malevolence that must have dominated his mind. I want to understand the motives that drove him to such extremes in our relatively kindly land. Looking at the bigger picture though, as a political footsoldier I feel deeply troubled. What other apparently respectable suits and ties conceal volcanoes of molten loathing for their fellow citizens? Every political party relies on volunteers and some of them are colourful, even oddball characters, but one expects there to be procedures for dealing with members who risk bringing the party into disrepute. In this case, the Conservative Party’s procedures and judgment are exposed as nothing less than disastrous failures – not only was Oakley not identified as a problem but he was actually selected as a campaign manager, a councillor and a parliamentary candidate. Did the party activists who worked with him all this time suspect nothing? Are they that lacking in perception? I find that hard to believe. Or was there a procedural failure so that warning bells were not heard? Either alternative is equally unpalatable. And if the Tories can’t run their own affairs, how can they be trusted to run the country? I have never heard of anything like this in the Lib Dems, but all the same the implications for me personally are quite profound. I have been involved in politics because I wanted to make things better. If I drop out, will people like Oakley and his friends (he still has some, amazingly, it seems) take over the field? Not acceptable. On the other hand, do I really want to stay involved in the only game for grown-ups if this is how some people play it? No, I don’t. It is not cricket. Not at all.