Ian Oakley, the former Tory PPC for Watford has pleaded guilty to a significant number of charges related to intimidation of Sal Brinton, the Liberal Democrat PPC for Watford and a number of Liberal Democrat Councillors, activists and supporters.
There are a number of grave concerns here which need to be addressed:
Firstly, who knew what in the Tory campaign HQ in Watford and beyond? Was it really possible for an individual to act alone and wage a war of intimidation against political opponents and not be detected? Did some people in the Tory camp know what was going on and turn a blind eye or worse? Will there be further action against others?
Secondly, why has Conservative HQ sought to wash their hands of the affair when all the intimidation was undertaken whilst Oakley was both a Conservative Campaign Manager and a Parliamentary Candidate? Does David Cameron really believe that just because Oakley quit the party after he was arrested "that's OK then?".
Politics can be a very high pressure activity as those who have been involved in intensive political campaigns when you are fighting to win know all too well. Sometimes the ambition of certain individuals runs beyond their reason (and their ability) and the temptation to take short cuts (such as postal vote farming) or to attempt to intimidate political opponents (which was attempted on me at one point over a sustained period of time) and their supporters can go on.
The real tragedy of this sorry affair is that decent people might develop an even greater sense of alienation and apathy from the political process. Politics is supposed to be about people but if there are other Oakley's in political parties who is going to want to stand up and be counted? Do we really want a cut down form of democracy where the choice available to the electorate is limited and campaigning is stunted due to a small number of psychologically disturbed individuals, anti-democrats or thugs?
David Cameron and his Conservatives cannot wash their hands of this matter. If they truly are democrats then they must help all of us, of all political parties and none, who believe in democracy and pluralism to ensure that another Oakley cannot emerge and do it again. All political parties have had bad apples but it does no one any favours if we fail to learn lessons from this sorry affair.