by Adam Barnard and Mark Lobel
Cambridge's Conservative Association was in turmoil last night after weeks of bitter in-fighting culminated in allegations of election-rigging and a move to censure the society's most senior members.
Amidst scenes recalling countless episodes at Westminster, a meeting of the Cambridge University Conservative Association descended into chaos yesterday as a proposal to censure Alan Mendoza, the chairman, Andrew Hollingsworth, the vice-chairman and Duncan Crossey, the secretary, signed by more than 30 of the groups' 300 members, failed only because one signatory was not an active member. No reason was given for the proposal.
Claims then emerged that Tommy Williams and Andrew Hammond, the two members who have said they will run for chairmanship at the elections on March 9, had struck a deal under which Williams would pull out of the race at the last minute, ensuring Hammond's success, if Hammond agreed to adopt Williams's policies.
The Tory group's historic reputation and the legions of famous politicians whose careers it has launched put a lot is at stake over the termly elections. Past chairmen and current patrons include high-profile success stories such as Baroness Thatcher, John Major, Michael Howard, Lord Archer, Norman Fowler, John Gummer, Peter Liley and Michael Portillo. The many visiting speakers present near-endless opportunities for networking.
The proposal to censure senior committee members followed two weeks of growing tension between Mendoza's supporters and those of his "rival" Williams. Mendoza claims he and his backers have worked towards reform of the group, encouraging more people, and especially people from state school backgrounds, to join, while Williams is said to want to retain the public school predominance of old.
Membership this term has increased by 60 to more than 300. A new-look term card is said to have contributed to a more accessible image for the group.
Allegations of intimidation and corruption
against Crossey, the secretary, had emerged earlier this week.
He was said to have intimidated Williams by pinning threatening
notes to his door and was accused of buying memberships for acquaintances
in the University Bow Group, CUCA's sister organisation.
But Mendoza and Crossey have both distanced themselves from the claims, and yesterday they approached Varsity with two other supporters to present what they claim is evidence that Williams and Hammond, the chairmanship candidates, had struck a secret deal.
Mendoza said: "I have
established that they cut a deal last week so that Hammond would
be chosen with full backing from John's. In return, Hammond changed
his policies to match those of Williams and started attacking
the reformers he had previously supported."
Mendoza says the scheme
would have meant only one candidate standing for chairmanship.
"Andrew and Tommy both made it quite clear earlier in the
term that they would be standing for election.
Yaniv Emanuel, from St John's college, who signed the censure, said he had not known the details of the allegations against Mendoza but had trusted the advice of Williams, a close friend. He said last night that he understood Williams was "thinking of not standing", but stressed that he believed this was because of work pressures, not the result of a secret deal.
Naomi Blyth, a former committee member who ran for chairmanship last year, said: "I would have expected Duncan to stand. Alan and Duncan are close friends. The way CUCA usually works is for the secretary and the vice-president to simply move up. It is quite common that people just move up a position each term."
Additional reporting: Alex Slater