COUNTY NEWS: Councillor slams ‘vicious attacks’ on founders of Tories’ answer to Momentum

Gary Markwell, county councillor for Arundel and Courtwick
Gary Markwell, county councillor for Arundel and Courtwick

A West Sussex county councillor has criticised what he described as bullying of party activists who launched the Tories’ answer to Labour’s grassroots campaign network Momentum.

According to Activate’s website the new organisation ‘seeks to actively engage young people in the right of centre politics, make a case for what Conservatism can offer, and provide a platform to enable their voices to be heard’.

Momentum, which has branches across the country, evolved from Jeremy Corbyn’s successful leadership campaign in summer 2015 and describes its goal to transform Labour into a ‘more open, member led party capable of winning elections’.

Since launching Twitter and Facebook accounts earlier this week Activate has been roundly mocked, with several spoof accounts set up within hours.

Social media users suggested the name sounded like a brand of laxative or probiotic yoghurt, while others took to criticising the logo, Tory policies, and Government figures including Prime Minister Theresa May.

Gary Markwell, county councillor for Arundel and Courtwick and election agent for Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert, has been credited as Activate’s national chairman but explained he was gardening yesterday (Tuesday August 29) for the second afternoon in a row when the ‘movement was supposedly launched’.

He said: “I joined an already established campaigning group of young people (mostly 17/18 years old) aimed at encouraging young people to get involved in politics.

“I was asked to chair the organisation to get it started as they needed some guidance from somebody with experience. This was only last week!

“Activate was actually founded on £50 and formed by a 17-year-old reaching out to other like minded young Conservative supporters on Facebook.”

He described how the 17-and-18-year-olds have been ‘attacked so viciously online’ they have mostly walked away from the organisation ‘out of fear’.

Mr Markwell continued: “They have been put off of an interest in politics because of bullying. Bullying of 17-year-olds by a supposed kinder and gentler politics!

“I was obviously keen to see young people take an interest in politics.”

According to its website, supporters between 16-24 can join for £5, while to become a full member for over 25s it is between £10 and £500.

Activate’s website says: “We intend to reclaim the voice of young people in politics, bringing together individuals and groups in our education system, workplaces and communities.

“We will campaign and organise to ensure that issues that are important to them are heard, discussed and addressed.”