AFTER I joined the Conservatives in 2007, I had to put up with my fair share of drama in the party.
But in November 2020, I was finally pushed over the edge when my local Conservative Association, to which I had dedicated 13 years of my life, deselected me as a candidate for this year’s Worcestershire County Council elections due to my opposition to the lockdown. For me, that was a step too far.
I had become increasingly dissatisfied with the Tories since the death of Elliott Johnson in 2015. I was horrified that the party had no safeguarding mechanisms to protect members suffering from mental health issues, and when Elliott committed suicide, it seemed like the party had learned nothing from that experience.
I know of members who have been bullied. Many left, never to return to politics, or joined the Reform Party, like I have.
Yet I remained a Tory member at the time because I believed I could try to change things. And in 2017, I was elected as a councillor for the Evesham South ward of Wychavon District Council in Worcestershire.
I loved being a councillor, but the experience made me realise that the Conservatives are not the party of free speech and that they trample on their members.
I was thrown out of the Tory group on the district council for retweeting a Hitler meme. That may sound shocking, but I was also working as an investigative journalist at the time.
The lady who originally retweeted the meme was being hounded by trolls. She closed her Twitter account and then reopened it, announcing her return by saying: ‘If you hate free speech, dial nein, nein, nein.’
I offered to interview her so that she could bring her story to life. She is Jewish and obviously understood the context of the meme.
She was using it to show she could not tweet what she likes, because Corbyn trolls would hound her. I retweeted her because I knew what she had been through and I was proud of her for not letting the trolls beat her.
However, the local Liberal Democrats took it out of context and went to the press. Instead of defending me, the Wychavon Conservative Group threw me out. I was hurt, but I remained a party member. Sadly, I lost my seat in 2019.
However, my experience at Wychavon – along with Theresa May’s awful handling of Brexit – made me determined to subscribe to the Conservative Party’s candidates list to become an MP.
In 2020, I also applied to become a Tory county council candidate and I passed the first three stages of the application process.
The rules dictated that if less than 15 members of your local branch are not present during the selection process at stage three, then your association’s executive make the decision.
Sadly, they decided against me because members went behind my back and found tweets that I retweeted opposing the lockdown. As a result, I had to go before an appeal process to explain the retweets.
Some of the anti-lockdown tweets I retweeted were written by Laura Perrins, co-editor of The Conservative Woman. I began to retweet her a lot during the height of the lockdown because I felt she was speaking for Conservative Party members like me more so than the party itself.
The appeal process was a disgrace. One councillor on the panel had been in trouble with the press numerous times and had the nerve to lecture me.
The panel concluded that my anti-lockdown tweets meant that I could not be a ‘trusted ambassador’ for the party and promote its message of ‘staying safe.’
Yet many Conservatives have spoken out against the lockdown, including MPs. The members who dug up those anti-lockdown tweets were cowardly for not admitting they complained about my views.
I know other Tories this has happened to. If this is the type of culture the Conservative Party is promoting internally, then it is not the party of free speech. If you do not subscribe to its policies, you cannot progress.
But what is more obvious to me is that the Tories have moved so far away from promoting conservative values that if you want a genuine Conservative government, you will not get that with the Conservative Party.