The Tory establishment are slapping themselves on the back again this morning, following an article by Conservative
Party Home editor Mark Wallace.
I should declare an interest: Mark got me a job once at the Tax Payers’ Alliance. I owe him for that. The fact that I absolutely hated it, its disingenuousness, and especially the way it was managed is an aside. I got along with one of his best friends, Matthew Elliott, of Business for Britain fame, rather well for a while too. (Mark and I used to perform a cracking karaoke rendition of Weezer’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’).
But as is the way with these things, if you don’t play by their rules, they disown, disassociate, and all basically just diss you all round. I’ve been on the receiving end of it far too often, and now Arron Banks, UKIP, and the Leave.EU campaign is their main target.
Mark’s piece is a very thinly veiled attempt to prompt people the way of Elliott’s floundering Business for Britain campaign, which has aligned to it, the Conservatives for Britain, and Labour for Britain. And why shouldn’t it be? He shares an office with Elliott, and his staffer Robert Oxley, who was named as briefing against Nigel Farage by the Guardian’s Michael White while the party leader was on stage at UKIP conference last week. “Toxic” indeed.
For a while there were some other groups too, like Historians for Britain. Seriously.
Elliott and Cummings are officially and decidedly for leaving the EU… I gather the BfB board formally approved the establishment of a Leave campaign in July, once it became clear that no treaty change would be offered.
That’s funny, because their website still reads, in its FAQs section: “Business for Britain is absolutely not about leaving the EU”. I took a screenshot today, in case anyone wants to play silly buggers.
He then goes on to discuss the Electoral Commission’s criteria for which campaign will be designated the “official” one – as if it even really matters. Leave.EU will both outspend and out-communicate opponents on all sides, without giving a stuff about ElCom rules. But here’s what Wallace wants us to believe:
On [the measure of cash], both organisations can tick the box.
Nope. I understand, very reliably, that Elliott’s campaign is haemorrhaging financial support – and is nowhere near the size of Leave.EU. To be struggling financially with a skeleton staff isn’t exactly promising. Meanwhile, as Wallace notes, Banks has a 50-person staffed call centre, as well as a fully fledged operation in place. I hear he’s spending just shy of half a million quid a month.
On competence, Wallace says:
Elliott ran the victorious No2AV campaign, and Cummings ran the North East Says No campaign in 2004, so between them they have fought and won the only UK-wide and the only regional referendums held in the UK this century. As Douglas Carswell said recently, “I’m not a gambling man but if I was I would probably bet on form… I can’t help noticing that Matthew Elliott has a track record of victory.”
No word here of course, of how the Prime Minister’s team had to take over from Elliott on the AV referendum in the final weeks. Nor of the fact that this EU referendum is hardly like anything any of the others have encountered before. If these people are indeed so competent, why are they still not off the ground? They reckon they’re (now) definitely for “out”. So come on! Let’s be hearing from you.
And I understand we will be, but alas, for a “low-profile, soft launch”.
The cross party point is where it gets REALLY interesting. Wallace notes:
…Elliott and Cummings have managed to assemble a broader alliance across the political parties – thus far they have Conservative, Labour, DUP and UKIP MPs signed up (Carswell is working with them rather than with Leave.EU, which presumably explains some of the attacks on him from the Banks camp) and will be announcing others soon. That’s a compelling argument that they have the wider cross-party base at this point by quite a long way.
Well, not quite. The ‘Conservatives for Britain’ and ‘Labour for Britain’ are all spin offs, registered to Elliott. I’m not sure whether ElCom will count this in the way Elliott hopes. He’s not bringing existing groups together, mainly because those groups all loathe him.
Further to that, is he really going to claim that 20 Tory MPs, 2 Labour MPs, and a couple of others count as cross party support more than, say, one million voters from across the political spectrum? That sounds a bit “Westminster Bubble” to me. Again, the rules aren’t very clear.
As for the Carswell point, well its won’t come as a surprise that one of the first people to tweet Wallace’s article this morning was Mr. C himself (known as “the c-word” in UKIP circles), who claimed: “Who should run the Leave campaign? UKIP must not cut itself out of campaign by only working w/ the losers”.
Quelle surprise. Tory turncoat who attacked Arron Banks in front of a journalist during the UKIP conference tweets that he’s a “loser”. Way for an MP to conduct himself.
Then it gets awkward for Wallace, on “grassroots” support:
…Leave.EU was launched last week with an announcement that it had gained the support of some of the long-established anti-EU campaign groups – a quick way to establish a claim to a hinterland. The organisations involved – the Bruges Group, Global Britain, Get Britain Out, the Democracy Movement and the Campaign for an Independent Britain – have an admirable heritage in anti-EU campaigning.
…Their support is undoubtedly an aid to the Banks campaign – though the news isn’t quite as portrayed. The declaration that Leave.EU has led to the groups “putting past differences aside” for the first time is odd – there has been a lot of co-operation between the various small platoons of the eurosceptic world, particularly over the last decade
Well firstly Wallace is just trying to do down Banks by claiming these groups don’t or haven’t feuded. They absolutely have. In fact, it is why I left the Tax Payers’ Alliance – because I was also helping Simon Richards of the Freedom Association with something, and Elliott went mad, declaring to me, “You work for me, not him.”
It is precisely this kind of proprietary political campaigning that will hinder, not help the referendum campaign.
As an aside, Wallace claims that “past [ConHome readership] surveys have found around 58 per cent planning to vote to Leave” – and makes the claim therefore that the Conservative Party is the more natural home of eurosceptics. Another big spin job here.
Firstly, Tory HQ has admitted to not really knowing its ever-declining membership numbers. So we don’t really know how many people 58 per cent represents. But more to the point, ConHome has an embarrassingly small readership. So to survey them and claim it is somehow representative of the wider Tory Party is really quite pathetic.
It’s funny that they think its still all to play for. It just so happens to be about 6-1 to Banks in the 80th minute at the moment, and whether or not he gets the ElCom nod, I predict Leave.EU will have the greatest effect on the referendum campaign of any other organisation bar the BBC and the European Commission. Let’s see…