ONE of David Cameron’s government ministers was forced to resign yesterday following claims that he had failed to take action against allegations of bullying in the Conservative youth wing.
Grant Shapps said he had come to the conclusion that the “buck should stop with me” when he stepped down as International Development Minister.
His resignation came as the Conservatives were embroiled in bullying claims following the apparent suicide of a youth activists in September.
The claims concern the behaviour of Mark Clarke, a youth organiser for Cameron’s party, who denies any wrongdoing.
Allegations of bullying were made following the death of Elliott Johnson, a 21-year-old activist who was found dead in tragic circumstances when Shapps was co-chairman of the party.
Shapps quit after Johnson’s father Ray called for the minister’s resignation and that of current party chairman Lord Feldman, insisting his son would still be alive if they had acted properly.
The 21-year-old was found dead on railway tracks in September, and reportedly left a note condemning Clarke, who had been in charge of a Conservative campaigning initiative call Road Trip which bussed young volunteers around the country.
In his letter to David Cameron, Shapps wrote: “Although neither the party nor I can find any record of written allegations of bullying, sexual abuse or blackmail made to the chairman’s office prior to the election, I cannot help but feel that the steady stream of those who raised smaller, more nuanced, objections should have perhaps set alarm bells ringing sooner.
“In the end, I signed that letter appointing Mark Clarke ‘director of Road Trip’ and I firmly believe that whatever the rights and wrongs of a serious case like this, responsibility should rest somewhere.
“Over the past few weeks, as individual allegations have come to light, I have come to the conclusion that the buck should stop with me.”
The Prime Minister described Johnson’s death as a “tragic loss”.
Shapps said he had given Clarke a “second chance” after he was removed from the party’s candidate list at the 2010 election.
“He presented himself as having learned from his past experience, being more mature and wanting to prove himself again,” he wrote. “After some discussion, I appointed him in order to incorporate Road Trip into our wider campaign. The aim was to better co-ordinate his activity with our rapidly expanding Team 2015 target-seat operation.”
Shapps said the Johnson family’s loss was “simply unimaginable”. “More than anything, I am deeply shocked and saddened by the recent death of Elliott Johnson and my thoughts are with his friends and family,” he added.
In his letter accepting the resignation, Cameron said: “I know that this will have been a very difficult decision for you to make, and something you will have given a great deal of thought to over recent days. I understand your reasons for stepping down and accept your decision.”
A replacement for Shapps as international development minister will be announced later. Attention is now likely to turn to the position of Lord Feldman, a key ally of Cameron and one of the driving forces behind the Tory election victory. Downing Street insisted the peer retained the Prime Minister’s “full confidence”.
Johnson’s father Ray welcomed Shapps’ resignation. “It’s about time, he should have resigned several weeks ago,” he said.