Man Behind U.K. Political Scandal a Unilever Social Media Analyst

Company Won't Say If Mark Clarke, Banned by Tories, Still Works There

By Published on .

Mark Clarke, the former rising Tory star in the middle of a bullying and sex scandal that has engulfed the party, was spotted on the beach in Barbados in November. Credit: GEMAIRA/Splash News/Corbis
Mark Clarke, the former rising Tory star in the middle of a bullying and sex scandal that has engulfed the party, was spotted on the beach in Barbados in November. Credit: GEMAIRA/Splash News/Corbis

Mark Clarke, the central figure in a British political scandal involving suicide and allegations of bullying, sexual assault and drug use, has had an interesting day job too -- heading global social media analytics and insights for Unilever.

Mark Clarke
Mark Clarke Credit: via LInkedIn

Two months after the Conservative Party expelled Mr. Clarke for life over allegations of wrongdoing, it's unclear if he still works for the company behind Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, Axe, Lipton and other brands. Unilever has declined to comment on anything related to Mr. Clarke, including whether he works there, when he was hired, what his title was or a blog post last month calling on the company to fire him.

But he represented Unilever at speaking engagements in the Netherlands and the U.K. last year, which was busy for him on the political front as well. He led RoadTrip2015, which bused young Conservative Party activists to contested districts prior to the May general election, earning praise from victorious Prime Minister David Cameron.

Then came the scandal, which led the Conservative Party to expel Mr. Clarke and hire a law firm to conduct an investigation into his behavior and whether the party covered up complaints about it.

Mr. Clarke didn't respond to requests for comment via LinkedIn or to queries via his Unilever voicemail and email, which appear to still be working. But U.K. news outlets report he's denied all wrongdoing.

The last report of a public sighting of Mr. Clarke was in Barbados on a family vacation. But he remains a regular subject of U.K. media reports over a scandal that's engulfed the Conservative Party since September, stemming from the death of 21-year-old party activist Elliott Johnson, who was found dead by train tracks in London and left a suicide note accusing Mr. Clarke of bullying him.

Subsequent press reports have alleged, based largely on anonymous sources, that Mr. Clarke sexually harassed and assaulted women connected to RoadTrip2015. Those reports say Mr. Clarke described his strategy with women as "isolate, inebriate and penetrate," and some told the Daily Mail he intimidated them by threatening to spread false accusations about them in the press if they complained.

Other reports say Mr. Clarke plotted to blackmail a party rival and member of Parliament over an affair (which the man ultimately acknowledged) and posted a video on Facebook of a sexual liaison involving another party activist. Mr. Clarke acknowledged the latter in media reports, saying he did so to foil a blackmail attempt against the activist and himself.

Other reports said Mr. Clarke used cocaine and slapped a lover so hard during a tryst that he dislocated her jaw. Reports also accuse Conservative officials of ignoring complaints about Mr. Clarke and giving him names of whistleblowers.

Some of the more comprehensive roundups of the scandal can be found from the Guardian and BBC's Newsnight broadcast investigation.

So far the scandal has led to resignation of a former Conservative Party co-chairman and cabinet minister who oversaw Mr. Clarke's work, and three more junior party and government officials, along with some calls for current party chairman Lord Feldman to resign.

None of the reports allege wrongdoing at or by Unilever. Indeed, no reference to Unilever is currently on Mr. Clarke's LinkedIn profile, which cites his "classical marketing training from P&G," where he began his career in 1999, working at Procter & Gamble's Newcastle U.K. and Geneva offices. He went on to consulting work at Boston Consulting Group and Accenture through March 2014.

The Pride's Purge blog, in calling for Unilever to fire Mr. Clarke, cites something he posted on the Conservative Party website in 2006, drawing on his P&G experience. Mr. Clarke said he "let go" a woman working for him who wasn't "abysmal" but "in the performance-driven culture of that company it was time for her to move on. "His point was that U.K. law would make such a move difficult, but Swiss employment law made it easy. A P&G spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters.

It's unclear exactly when Mr. Clarke started work for Unilever. His LinkedIn bio says he left Accenture in May 2014. Mr. Clark spoke to a program of New York University's Stern Master of Science in Business Analytics program in March in Rotterdam, where he was cited as a Unilever executive.

A bio published in promotional materials for last year's Actionable Data Analytics Customer Experience Transformation 2015 conference in London lists his him as senior director of marketing analytics title with duties that include tracking Unilever brands in social media. It's unclear whether he actually appeared, since the conference was held two weeks after Mr. Johnson's suicide ignited the scandal. An employee of conference organizer LBCG, reached by phone, declined to comment.

Even before the current scandal, and before Unilever hired him, Mr. Clarke had a prominent and sometimes controversial political career.

He was nicknamed the "Tatler Tory" after the society magazine predicted in 2008 that he'd someday be a cabinet member. But his political fortunes declined after he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in south London's Tooting district in 2010. The campaign generated enough controversy that a Conservative Party committee removed him from the list of candidates for future elections. Former party Chairman Sayeeda Warsi, who was on that committee, told the Guardian Mr. Clarke was "a disaster waiting to happen."

Among controversies in the 2010 campaign was that a friend set up a system to redirect traffic from an independent rival's website to Mr. Clarke's own -- something he denied involvement in.

Two years later, a Liberal blogger questioned how Mr. Clarke accumulated 50,000 Twitter followers in only four months, and found thousands of fake accounts among them.

That @MrMarkClarke account was deleted last year only to be taken over by a political blogger running it as a parody account -- Ersatz Mark Clarke. The real Unilever social media analyst has largely disappeared from social media since the scandal.