A week on from the news of Ian Oakley’s conviction being reported in the local press, and we still have no official comment from anyone speaking on behalf of Watford Conservatives – no formal expression of regret, apology, or sympathy for Mr Oakley’s victims.
There is, however, a letter in today’s Watford Observer (letters are not available online) from Gary Ling, former Conservative councillor and former Mayoral candidate, who might reasonably be considered a senior Conservative figure in the town.
His comments are forthright indeed. He describes the episode as ‘a concerted form of collective retribution’, ‘truly disgusting’, a ‘smear’, a ‘spectacular own-goal’ and ‘low-blow tactics’. Unfortunately, these epithets are not used to refer to Mr Oakley, but rather to the Liberal Democrats’ reaction in Watford to the news of Oakley's conviction. Mr Ling attacks us for implying guilt by association, claiming that our response has been ‘as bad, or worse’ as/than Mr Oakley’s activities.
Of course claiming guilt by association is exactly what we have tried to avoid doing, and indeed I don’t see anywhere a suggestion from us that the Conservatives were collectively part of Mr Oakley’s criminal campaign. What we have said is that it ought to be investigated by the Conservatives to find out if anyone else knew/was involved or whether there was any negligence in failing to detect what he was up to. Given the extent and timescale of the hate campaign, I think it is fair enough to ask for this. It is not the same as asserting that individual Conservatives or their local association were complicit. It is saying no more than that they need to be asking themselves some tough questions.
To be fair to Mr Ling he does leave the reader in no doubt that he condemns what Mr Oakley has done. But while he states that this view is agreed with by the chairman of Watford Conservatives, the latter has made no public statement at all on the subject. Or rather, after the arrest, but before the conviction, he described the whole thing as a ‘little hiccup’ and appeared primarily concerned with its effects on the Conservatives’ electoral prospects. Before the court hearing he noticeably sat next to Mr Oakley, who was also seen to be embraced by two other leading Watford Conservatives.
So let’s say it one more time. No one actually thinks that Watford Conservatives as a body endorsed what Mr Oakley did. But they gave him positions of responsibility in their organisation. By his own admission, the Conservatives were the intended beneficiaries of his criminal campaign. And so close were the margins that they held their three borough council seats, that it is legitimate to feel that they did derive some benefit from this (even though, no doubt the candidates themselves were unaware of what he was doing).
In the wake of what has happened, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that the Conservatives investigate the whole affair. Other Conservatives have endorsed such a call. It would have been the decent thing to do to express some degree of regret and sympathy and an apology for having introduced Mr Oakley into Watford politics.
So far, in the wake of the conviction, we have had official silence from Watford Conservatives. This fact, combined with the comments from Mr Ling, suggest that some local Conservatives have entirely lost their moral compass.