I have met Mark Clarke on several occasions and my first experience of him was actually fairly good. He seemed to be enthusiastic and I liked his politics. Sadly, that feeling did not last.
Mark created the Road Trip events attended by Conservative Future members ahead of the 2015 election. The success of the events were set to boost his own standing in the party and many young activists thought they could ride his coat tails, and had no problem in doing so.
But further encounters with Mark were increasingly odd, even outside of the Road Trip setting. I never saw him with adults his own age. Even at a private event at his home, there was no one outside of the Conservative youth movement or even his own age there, with the exception of his wife, his mother and a Tory MP. He spent evenings and weekends after work in CCHQ with other youth members.
Mark made me aware of his power and authority during a minor altercation with him, even though it was a misunderstanding on my behalf. He made no explicit threat to me but his whole approach and attitude was extremely intimidating. He made sure I rectified my mistake. He scared me.
The most recent Conservative Future elections put the nail in the coffin. I don't know whether the results were rigged, but Mark put his full weight behind certain preferred candidates and won every single position on the executive team.
It was clear that if Mark had considerable influence within Conservative Future (a youth movement with over 15,000 members) it would make his Road Trip project run much easier and he could control young members like his puppets.
Embedding himself – a man in his late thirties – in a youth movement and intimidating others was the final straw for me I decided not to renew my Conservative Party membership, and I cut all my ties with those involved.
I was not surprised to read about the allegations of a culture of bullying at Conservative Future that came after the tragic death of Elliott Johnson, in fact I already knew most of them. But the fact that such horrific circumstances had to happen for people to feel they were able to speak up, through fear being ostracised or their political careers being hurt, is particularly awful and I hope it will never ever happen again.
But the problem doesn't start or end with Mark. One of the big errors the party made that has led to much of the bullying and infighting was the distribution of "rewards" such as being selected for a meeting with the prime minister at Number 10.
The success of former CF chair 29-year-old Ben Howlett, who is now MP for Bath, has added to the frenzied atmosphere, putting an erroneous image in the heads of many young Tories that if they can reach a senior position within the youth wing, they would be guaranteed a career in Conservative politics.
The in-fighting, backstabbing and bullying was horrendous, especially around the youth election seasons. People would go over great lengths to win or to become popular within the movement, defaming individuals' personalities, stealing private emailing lists and so on.
You only have to look in the comments of The Blue Guerilla blog to see how nasty it really was. This was all happening even before Mark's involvement, and unless there are major reforms, I doubt it will end with it either.
Having spoken to members of other political youth movements, these problems aren't isolated to the Conservative Party. The nature of youth politics as it stands is bad. There's an observation that's usually attributed to Henry Kissinger: that youth politics are so awful because there is so little at stake. That was certainly true of my experience.
This is not to say everything in the youth movement is awful. The Young Britons' Foundation (YBF) was a very good opportunity to receive media and political training – something Conservative Future and universities didn't provide.
Likewise, university branches were also a pleasant environment. Since most universities are left-thinking hotbeds, meeting like-minded conservatives, libertarians and right-wingers was nice "safe space" to talk politics and have fun.
When I first got involved with Conservative Future, I wanted to work for a MP or even one day become an MP. But after being exposed to such nepotism and infighting, I have changed my plans. After I graduated I took a job in the private sector and, in light of recent allegations, this seems like the right path to have taken. I hope the party's inquiry and the reforms that come as a result of it prevent this happening again and make it an enjoyable experience in the future.
The author is a former Conservative Future youth activist. Sam Woods is a pseudonym.
*Mark Clarke has denied any allegations of wrong-doing over the Conservative Future bullying scandal.