‘Bet Lynch’ baroness and fury of tragic ac­tivist’s fa­ther

Daily Mail - - Front Page - An­drew Pierce re­port­ing

The de­ci­sion to make a close con­fi­dante of the Tatler Tory a peer was at­tacked as ‘crass’ by the fa­ther of the young ac­tivist who com­mit­ted sui­cide. Baroness Pid­ding was re­warded for her work with se­nior elec­tion aide Mark Clarke in or­gan­is­ing the party’s Road Trip elec­tion­eer­ing cam­paign. But her en­no­ble­ment was con­firmed by the Queen less than a month af­ter young ac­tivist El­liott John­son took his own life af­ter al­legedly be­ing bul­lied by Clarke. She en­tered the Lords ear­lier this month as the sex, drugs and black­mail scan­dal en­gulf­ing the party was be­gin­ning to grow. The peer has also faced al­le­ga­tions that she leaked back com­plaints made by party ac­tivists about Clarke to the se­nior elec­tion aide him­self. Yes­ter­day it emerged that Mr John­son’s griev­ing fa­ther Ray wrote di­rectly to Tory chair­man Lord Feld­man at­tack­ing the peer­age, say­ing the peer and Mr Clarke may have had an ‘un­healthily close’ re­la­tion­ship.

In a fu­ri­ous per­sonal let­ter at the start of last month, he wrote: ‘Yet again the Con­ser­va­tive party demon­strates its crass han­dling of the Mark Clarke af­fair.

As you are no doubt aware, Ms Pid­ding’s name has cropped up on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions as a close con­fi­dante of Mark Clarke. Young ac­tivists are qui­etly claim­ing she is the source of leaked in­for­ma­tion to Clarke, al­legedly re­veal­ing the iden­ti­ties of those who raised com­plaints about his ac­tiv­i­ties.

‘It ap­pears in­ap­pro­pri­ate at this time for her to be con­sid­ered for a seat in the ... Lords, whilst these ex­tremely se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions against Clarke are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated; and may once again bring the process of en­no­ble­ment into dis­re­pute.’ Say­ing it was ‘ex­tremely in­sen­si­tive’ that Pid­ding en­tered the Lords in the week that would have been El­liott’s 22nd birth­day, Mr John­son added: ‘Not much of a birth­day gift from the Con­ser­va­tive party that he spent years of vol­un­tary time and money sup­port­ing.’

Pid­ding, 49, is a close friend of Clarke, who was ex­pelled from the party last month for his al­leged bul­ly­ing of Mr John­son, 21, who com­mit­ted sui­cide in Septem­ber.

The peer, un­kindly com­pared by some Tory MPs to Corona­tion Street leg­end Bet Lynch be­cause of her bot­tle blonde hair and bright or­ange lip­stick, was an en­thu­si­as­tic mem­ber of the Road Trip team and ap­pears in pho­tos with Clarke.

It was as chair­man of the Na­tional Con­ser­va­tive Con­ven­tion, from which she stood down in March 2015, that they be­came firm friends. Her web­site is pep­pered with pho­tos of her with the 38-year- old fa­ther of two young chil­dren. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, Clarke posted pic­tures on his Face­book page of Baroness Pid­ding hold­ing one of his young chil­dren.

With the con­sent of party chair­man Mr Feld­man, Pid­ding ar­ranged for Clarke to be feted by David Cameron at a rally in July. In the same month, Feld­man ap­pointed Pid­ding chair­man of Road Trip 2020 – with Clarke as her most se­nior lieu­tenant – which would have seen them work­ing closely to­gether un­til the next gen­eral elec­tion.

Feld­man was al­ways a fan of Pid­ding be­cause, un­like some previous heads of the vol­un­tary party, she never rocked the boat and was de­voted to Mr Cameron.

He also has good rea­son to be grate­ful to her. In May 2013, Feld­man was fac­ing calls to re­sign af­ter two news­pa­pers named him as the Tory grandee who de­scribed party ac­tivists op­posed to gay mar­riage and with a hard-line po­si­tion on Europe as ‘swivel-eyed loons’.

De­mands were made at a Tory board meet­ing for an in­quiry into the al­le­ga­tions, which he al­ways

de­nied. Pid­ding mar­shalled forces for Feld­man to de­feat the move. she has also ve­he­mently de­nied hav­ing any­thing to do with the leaks to Clarke. But her crit­ics point out that she is a close friend of si­mon Mort, the party of­fi­cial who han­dled el­liott John­son’s com­plaint about Clarke in Au­gust this year – a month be­fore his death. Not only that, a source says in her role as chair­man of the Na­tional Con­ser­va­tive Con­ven­tion she was the driv­ing force be­hind the ap­point­ment of Mort as head of the dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee charged with in­ves­ti­gat­ing the com­plaints which flooded in af­ter John­son’s death.

‘si­mon and emma are in­sep­a­ra­ble,’ says the se­nior tory source. ‘they talk and text each other all the time. It’s as­ton­ish­ing she was ever al­lowed to ap­point a friend to chair such a sen­si­tive com­mit­tee. Pid­ding has now agreed to co-op­er­ate with a new, more for­mal in­quiry into Clarke, which is now be­ing con­ducted by the City le­gal firm Clif­ford Chance. As a reg­u­lar on the Road trip, she will be chal­lenged about what she knew about al­le­ga­tions of bul­ly­ing, black­mail and sex­ual ha­rass­ment and the iden­ti­ties of those who made the com­plaints. While Mark Clarke – and former party chair­man Grant shapps – are now po­lit­i­cally fin­ished, Pid­ding con­tin­ues to pros­per cour­tesy of her friend­ship with Lord Feld­man. she was for­mally made a Baroness by the Queen on Oc­to­ber 13, four weeks af­ter el­liott John­son’s death, and en­tered the Lords in the first week of Novem­ber as Baroness Pid­ding of Amer­sham.

the peer­age, fol­low­ing a CBe last year for ser­vices to the tory Party, was rec­om­mended by Feld­man and rub­ber-stamped by Mr Cameron. A mem­ber of the tory Party since 1986, emma Pid­ding climbed the greasy po­lit­i­cal pole by at­tend­ing end­less (and te­dious) Con­ser­va­tive com­mit­tee meet­ings. Born in soli­hull, she did not go to univer­sity but worked as a clerk at Lloyds Bank. she later worked for an It firm and ran her own events man­age­ment com­pany.

she now lives at a £3mil­lion de­tached house in the Buck­ing­hamshire vil­lage of Chal­font st Giles with her part­ner tim Butcher, a wealthy in­sur­ance bro­ker.

Pid­ding has said all the claims against her are false and yes­ter­day is­sued a new state­ment in­sist­ing she would an­swer any ques­tions put to her by an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry. In a state­ment, she said: ‘I have al­ready made it clear that al­le­ga­tions made against me are false.

‘I am hid­ing noth­ing and I am quite happy to an­swer any ques­tions an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry may put to me. ‘I be­lieve it is time for the Con­ser­va­tive Party to put it­self up to the same level of scru­tiny.’

she ear­lier told the the Mail on sun­day: ‘In 30 years as a vol­un­teer for the Con­ser­va­tive Party I have never done any­thing blame­wor­thy or un­der­hand.’

Pow­er­ful pals: Party chair­man Lord Feld­man with Baroness Pid­ding

Rub­bing shoul­ders: With Mark Clarke at a rally last year and, above, along­side David Cameron on her Face­book page

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