Bristol Uni Tories are at war with each over sleazy ‘life peerages’ to the society
Tory sleaze has reached Bristol, baby
The political world is engulfed with Tory sleaze scandals. David Cameron has been accused of using his connections with ministers for favours, and Boris Johnson (or “Major Sleaze“) is refusing to answer who paid for his swanky Downing Street refurb to get rid of Theresa May’s “John Lewis nightmare”.
And now the tide has run from the Palace of Westminster to the Wills Memorial Building. Bristol Uni’s very own Tory society is consumed in its own model-village sleaze scandal, as members wage war over effectively meaningless “life patronages” of the Bristol Uni Conservative Association (BUCA).
Jude D’Alesio, a Tory councillor candidate for Clifton Down in the Bristol local elections next week, has been forced into renouncing his lifetime patronage of the Bristol Uni Tory outpost after selecting and nominating himself for the honour.
Former committee members have described the behaviour as “cronyism”, said that D’Alesio has “a worryingly nonchalant attitude to transparency and accountability”, and that the behaviour is “Widmerpudlian” (not even Google has heard of that term). BUCA labelled the allegations a “smear campaign”, and said that their “sense” is that last year’s committee “did not get along well”.
It is believed that D’Alesio, who is studying law, would have been the first student ever to receive a lifetime patronage from the society. The Bristol Tab understands that the only current patron is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is currently a Tory MP and Leader of the House in Boris Johnson’s government.
A patronage is effectively meaningless, giving the holder certain privileges such as coming back for formals. It is a role with no power at all. D’Alesio compared it to “life peerages”, normally offered to influential politicians, donors, and others.
Former BUCA members say that this was designed to allow D’Alesio to stay involved with BUCA and expand his political credentials. They told The Bristol Tab that their aim in speaking to us was to categorically disavow D’Alesio’s behaviour, also seen at the top of the current Tory government.
A now-former BUCA committee member was “irritated” by the move, telling The Bristol Tab of their fear that “this type of cronyism would damage BUCA’s already shaky relations with the SU and student body.”
They added: “As a prospective councillor that total disregard for transparency is worrying”.
D’Alesio told The Bristol Tab that all but one committee member and the new committee say there has been “no misconduct”. However, when asked whether this was “cronyism”, the Bristol city council candidate (and current Long Ashton Parish Councillor) refused to respond.
A former BUCA Vice President and Treasurer also slammed the move, telling The Bristol Tab: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any other committee member ever appointing themselves as life patron. Our only patron is Jacob Rees-Mogg who, unlike Jude, is a minister of State and has been a staunch backbench MP.”
They added that the former Chairman’s move was “not surprising for a man who once called himself ‘ambition incarnate'”.
In a statement last night, the new BUCA Chairman Elliot Stein accused The Bristol Tab of running a “smear campaign” and negatively affecting the mental health of a candidate running for public office, and insisted there was “no story”.
That’s an argument which was persuasive for Bristol’s other student news outlet. On Wednesday, Epigram published an article about the scandal, but deleted it less than 24 hours later. An “agreement” was made between D’Alesio, (the former Chairman of BUCA), and Epigram whereby D’Alesio renounced his effectively self-awarded lifetime patronage, and “in return”, Epigram deleted the article.
However, the new BUCA Chairman said that the new committee has passed an “identical” amendment which would allow D’Alesio’s reappointment as lifetime patron. The fact that the original motion was rescinded and passed again implies that the former and current committees feel that the original vote may not have been valid.
Teddy Coward, Epigram’s Co-Editor-in-Chief, told The Bristol Tab that their role is to “represent students and hold authority to account”. Coward said he “heard [D’Alesio’s] regret and agreed that with his decision to renounce I would remove the article”, adding: “I am pleased our story had a positive effect and that genuine action was taken as a result.”
In a series of WhatsApp messages seen by The Bristol Tab, D’Alesio wrote to the rest of BUCA committee “I would like to propose myself for a life patronage, is everyone in favour?”
He added: ‘The Constitution is very vague and mentions it only once, but it seems to be a largely honorary position… I likened it to former politicians being given peerages.”
One committee member replied to D’Alesio’s message saying: “I have no interest in […] the rather cosy self-appointment process.”
D’Alesio denies that the committee was unhappy, saying that they were in favour at the time. He added that “misgivings were raised by a single committee member”, which he says have now been resolved.
On his LinkedIn page, D’Alesio describes the BUCA Vice President as “my special advisor”, and describes the secretary of the society as “my private secretary”.
A former committee member said in response: “Creatively changing an external committee into something resembling a politician’s private office lays bare what he thought of his chairmanship: to wring out as much as possible for profile.”
In a statement to The Bristol Tab, Elliot Stein, the new Chairman of BUCA, described these allegations as a “smear campaign”, saying it is “an excuse to hit back at Jude’s successful tenure as Chairman”.
Stein is also a law student at Bristol Uni alongside Jude D’Alesio, and a source described them as “very very close friends”. Stein flatly denies this.
He added that that the society “will not throw one of our own members under the bus for the sake of a catchy headline and to instil further Conservative-hate on Campus.
“The Bristol University Conservative Association is an inclusive, tolerant, and broad-minded society from all creeds, races, and backgrounds. As a Jewish man, raised by a single-mother, I can concur that Jude has created the perfect environment for debate.”