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