Alex Constantine - March 9, 2010
Eric Pickles distances Tory party from rightwing training organisation
By Robert Booth | Guardian | 9 March 2010
Pickles spoke last week at a YBF rally at the House of Commons and the group is working with Conservative Future, the party's official youth wing, on pre-election training of young Tory activists. But yesterday that relationship came under serious strain.
"We don't agree with these views," a spokesman for Pickles said in a brief statement. "The YBF organisation is independent of the Conservative party."
The move follows revelations in the Guardian at the weekend that the YBF's chief executive, Donal Blaney, has taken trainees to firing ranges as part of their courses and called for police to shoot down environmental protesters who trespass.
Blaney has referred to the YBF as "a Conservative madrasa". In recent years, the organisation has enjoyed widespread support from members of the shadow cabinet, including Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, and Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, both of whom have spoken at its gatherings. The YBF has also helped train several prospective parliamentary candidates.
Today, campaigners for tighter gun control wrote to David Cameron demanding a reassurance that a Tory government would not liberalise firearm controls.
"We are deeply disturbed that elements of the Conservative party are allying themselves with the organisation Young Britons' Foundation, whose aims include liberalisation of gun laws, and that senior Conservative figures are espousing the views of this disturbing group," said Gill Marshall Andrews, chairwoman of the Gun Control Network.
"Ordinary people in the UK are fearful of guns and do not want to see a return to the pre-Dunblane situation where pistol shooting was the 'fastest growing sport'. Then we were clearly heading along the American road, a road we fervently hope that the Conservatives will not take us down again."
Yesterday, a Conservative party organiser quit the party after Blaney's views were exposed.
James Cutts, who acts as spokesman for the east Midlands division of Conservative Future, said he was "horrified" at the revelations.
"Who needs to be trained by these people?" said Cutts. "Their position on the NHS is against everything David Cameron has been saying. I also take exception to CCHQ [Conservative campaign headquarters]'s denial that we are not paying YBF for services when we are farming out our media training to them for hundreds of pounds at a time."
Cutts said that, as an organiser for Conservative Future's East Midlands region, he came under pressure from the national organisation to ensure there were sufficient paying customers for the YBF courses.
A spokesman for the Conservative party said people attended YBF courses of their own volition and they were not financially supported by the party.
Conservative central office would not comment on whether the planned YBF training courses being promoted by Conservative Future will go ahead in the light of the revelations.
"I have nothing else to add," said Pickles's spokesman.
The Conservative Future courses are advertised as "bought to you by: Young Britons' Foundation" and include sessions on "handling negative information".