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Who was really behind the message to Corbyn that sparked TV debate?

A ‘wraparound’ advertisement in last week’s Tribune urged Jeremy Corbyn to support a second Brexit vote. But who funded the intervention and what were their motives?

25 January, 2019 — By Eric Gordon

The ‘wraparound’ advert was seen on BBC’s Politics Live

THE “wraparound” advertisement in the Tribune advocating a second referendum caused a mild sensation in Labour circles in the borough.

The Tribune, with a certified circulation of 20,000 in Islington, is read by many Labour Party members and is regularly pored over by activists.

Within hours of the edition appearing on Friday it was discussed by panellists of the BBC’s flagship show Politics Live, with the front page held up to camera. Other channels and online sites covered it as well.

Journalistically, this was predictable because the message of the “wrap- around” promoted an idea which, though it is not direct official policy of the Labour Party, is advocated by many leading Labour politicians and given the nod by the party’s chief Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, MP for neigh­bouring Holborn and St Pancras in Camden.

Crucially, at the very best, the concept of a second vote can be said to be kept in reserve as a future ploy by party leader Jeremy Corbyn. But he is known as a Eurosceptic and would not wish to be seen to be publicly supportive of the idea.

The team behind the advertisement, pro-Europe campaigning body Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), would have wished to target the thousands of Labour Party members in Isling­ton, many young and new adherents, the very type who are said by pollsters to be Second Voters.

The front page ‘wraparound’ advert in last week’s Tribune

The Tribune was first contacted by Cathleen Clark, an official of Our Future Our Choice, at the end of last year.

The “wraparound” was provisionally booked earlier this month after it had been agreed to accept it in principle, depending on its wording.

Both Cathleen Clark and another OFOC official, William Dry, said it represented the views of young Labour Party members and supporters. The advertisement was sent last Thursday morning and accepted after the wording had been checked.

Shortly afterwards, the agreed sum of money was transferred to the Tribune in the name of a person who is associated with OFOC and is known online as a Conservative.

Later, William Dry rang the paper seeking a PDF of the layout.

While on the phone, he confirmed again that the “wraparound” was particularly aimed at young Labour members and supporters and admitted that, at first, when he was 18 years of age, he had been a Leaver and had only later become a Remainer.

Sky News reacts to the ‘wraparound’ advert in the Tribune

There is little doubt that, whatever the  motives of those behind the advertisement, it succeeded on two fronts – it achieved shoals of publicity, both in Islington and nationally through TV coverage, as well as targeting Labour Party members in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, thus, from their point of view, directly attacking him in his “home base”.

But who was behind the advertisement?

Primarily, of course, Our Future Our Choice, a cross-party coalition drawing in Lib Dems, Tories and Labour Party members. There are several such campaigning bodies, some of them similar coalitions, but Our Future Our Choice is prominent among them.

Judging by the “cross-party” mixture of people linked to OFOC it would be unlikely if its course of action at times is not influenced by views con­trary to those of Jeremy Corbyn – even opposition to Labour itself. It says it crowdfunds regularly, but an official conceded that not all of its money comes from crowdfunding.

In its prospectus it says it is “powered” by other pro-Europe bodies, Best for Britain, Open Britain and the European Movement.

An OFOC official did not deny that some of them have given it money.

But who bankrolls the other pro-Europe bodies?

Large sums of money are being funnelled into these organisations – from whom is not known.

Best for Britain states online that it has £2.4million in its coffers – the European Movement refers to a donation of £500,000 from a well-known financier.

Jeremy Corbyn: targeted

It could be said this is the nature of coalitions but when the organisation specifically campaigns in the manner it did through a “wraparound” in a newspaper circulating in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, questions may be asked as to the motive behind it.

It is thought, for instance, that Lord Mandelson is associated with Our Future Our Choice.

A former Hartlepool Labour MP and one of the main architects behind the emergence of Tony Blair as party leader – and dubbed the “Prince of Darkness” because of his manipulative, back­room techniques – Lord Mandelson has never concealed his opposition to Jeremy Corbyn.

Whoever took the decision at Our Future Our Choice – was it a committee or a small group with delegated powers?– it cannot be ruled out that Lord Mandelson may have known about it.

He could certainly have thought of it mischievous­ly and seen it as a clever chess move to outflank his political adversary Jeremy Corbyn and his team.

He has a colourful political career going back to the 1980s. The grandson of a former right-wing Labour grandee, Herbert Morrison, he actually began his political life in his late teens on the far-Left, involved with a community youth organisation in Camden.

He seems to have gradually moved rightwards in the party until he teamed up with Tony Blair, to whom he became indispensable as a tactician and eventually a policymaker.

Then, one can note that the man who transferred the money for the advertisement is known as a Conservative. He would have to be politically schizophrenic if he did not relish the idea that the advertise­ment went towards weakening the position of what must be his political arch-enemy, Jeremy Corbyn.

Critics and cynics may think that in the political melange of this saga the spectre of “dirty tricks” raises its head.

The public could not be expected to be aware of all the possible backroom politics involved, both in the decisions behind the move to place the advertisement in the Tribune, and in the final side-effects on the Labour Party in Islington, in particular.

But some of the politicos at Our Future Our Choice may have thought things through – and at the very least saw it as a bit of political knockabout; at worst, a clever campaign man­oeuvre in the long war against Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of politics.

According to the long-held conventions of public discourse by politicians with a sense of fairness, it may be thought greater trans­parency ought to have been at play in this saga.

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