Monday, November 08, 2010

Tories suspend S Staffs party

The Conservatives have suspended one of its most successful constituency parties and axed three senior officers, two of them councillors.

The 500-member South Staffordshire Conservative Association has been put on "special support" with ex-Birmingham Northfield MP Roger King parachuted in as chairman.

Coun David Billson and Coun Sonja Oatley have been forced to resign from the association's ruling executive by the Party Board over unfounded allegations against their chairman Lyndon Jones.

Mr Jones has also been forced out and has quit the party over the "kangaroo court" which sealed his fate.

The departures follow a high-level two-month inquiry into allegations against Mr Jones carried out by the Tories’ Staffordshire Area Management Executive chaired by Mr Charles Boote.

The inquiry's final report concludes that “an undercurrent of bad feeling” was in danger of “spiralling out of control”.

It says there was “strong evidence of an attempt to undermine the chairman. In particular there have been unproven rumours of previous membership of the National Front or similar organisations and charges of rigging of a selection vote. Both of these could be highly damaging to the party were they to be reported in the press”.

Mr Jones was also accused of using his position to win a pay rise for his wife, who is the association’s organising secretary. But he was cleared by the inquiry which said he “behaved properly in absenting himself from key decisions affecting his wife’s employment contract”.

The report said South Staffordshire District Councillor Oatley had to go because she was guilty of leaking confidential information to members and undermining Mr Jones.

It says of Coun Billson, who is a district and county councillor, that he “has taken certain actions and made a number of allegations that have undermined the chairman. None of these allegations have turned out to be true and Coun Billson has presented no evidence to support them.”

Both councillors have been removed from the local party executive.

The report says of Mr Jones: “The chairman has exhibited a high degree of dedication to the association during his term in office.

The report also states: “However, he has permitted the paid employees to assume responsibility for issues with, and write e-mails to, volunteers that rightly fall within his remit. In doing so, the chairman has abdicated an important responsibility and has allowed situations to develop and fester.”

Mr Jones commented that as paid employees it would be part of an Organising Secretary’s job to respond to emails.

The report says the association must introduce new employment policies “as a matter of urgency” and it would be “inappropriate” for Mr Jones to remain as chairman.

Mr Jones said he had repeatedly told the area management executive that the Organising Secretary already had both a contract of employment and a job description, but he was ignored.

He became chairman 18 months ago following a selection where he was voted as Chairman by a large majority of the members and at the time of his election the Conservative Party wrote to the association confirming there was no objection to Mr Jones getting the post even though his wife was an employee.

A furious Mr Jones said: “I was never in the BNP and I never took part in any decisions regarding the Organising Secretary’s wages. I asked for advice from the party and they immediately suspended the association, told me we could not hold any more meetings, and launched an investigation.

“I do not know what I have done wrong. This is a stitch-up kangaroo court. They are really scraping the barrel if it’s because I didn’t personally reply to all the e-mails we receive.

“I have never been allowed to defend myself. As a convicted criminal I would have more opportunity to defend myself than this.”

He said some councillors may have been angry because he had tried to ensure the local party stuck to the Conservatives’ rules on the selection of council candidates.

Mr Jones added: “I am very disappointed I have had no support from our
MP Gavin Williamson after I was his chief aide and had three weeks off work for the General Election. I was with him every single day of the campaign,” said Mr Jones.

“As his Association Chairman, I would have expected his support. I am a working man who was doing a good job and feel very let down by the Conservative Party. Obviously I do not fit in.”

At the General Election, the Conservative majority in South Staffordshire increased from 8,847 to 16,950, making it one of the party’s safest seats in the country.

Coun Billson said: “I have been struck down from the executive, so has Mr Jones and one other person but I am not allowed to talk about it and that would be the situation at the moment.”

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