Nobody would be happier than I if my time and energies were devoted to nothing but fighting the fight to get a second referendum, a task made more complicated by the election, but still not impossible. Most of my time is still used for that, but the fight has been made a lot more difficult by the actions of one person in one part of the People’s Vote coalition, namely Roland Rudd, who has done way more than Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage in recent days to suck energy, time, resources and morale from the cause to which he claims to be dedicated.
I have enough self-awareness to realise that most members of the public are unlikely to care too much about a public spat between a multi-millionaire City PR man and what one journalist last week referred to as ‘a cabal of washed up spin doctors’ – he meant me, Peter Mandelson, Tom Baldwin and James McGrory. It was the sacking by Rudd of the last of these two, in his capacity as chairman of Open Britain, one of the five groups which makes up the People’s Vote coalition, at the worst possible time for the campaign, that led to its current crisis.
I have a lot of sympathy with fellow anti-Brexiteers who tell me the public squabbling inside the People’s Vote campaign helps nobody but our opponents. They are right. However, the issues at stake are too serious and too significant for us simply to shrug shoulders and move on.
They concern progressive values and basic rights, and I for one feel the Brexit fight is in large part a defence of such things. They concern the livelihoods of people who have devoted three years of their lives to a cause, in most cases for low pay and awful working conditions, and who now find themselves unable to return to their desks, locks changed, email and other access to their work denied, while the two men responsible lie to the media in saying they are welcome to return and that half of them already have. So it is also about truth, and just as Boris Johnson’s lies have to be called out at every turn, so should lies on our side of the debate too.
To give one small example of what Rudd would doubtless consider to be a lie so white it is hardly worth me calling it out. When he dropped out of a meeting with staff the day after the late night sackings, preferring to ply his PR skills on the airwaves, he responded to an interviewer’s claim that he barely visited the campaign HQ that he was in and out there all the time. Totally untrue, but hey he may have feel feeling under pressure at having to square his even more absurd claim that there was no row, and a role for everyone, with emails already sent to people telling them not to to turn up for work, thanking them for their contribution but time to move on, blah blah blah.
When finally he deigned to meet the staff, he refused to go to the office, summoned people to a hotel to be met by black clad security there to block Baldwin and McGrory, and no doubt intimidate others. Several of the staff began their Qs in the Q and A to ask Rudd if he knew their name. No was the answer. White lie collapse. There were far more serious issues, currently in the hands of lawyers, that were raised and, as with the near year long campaign to get Rudd to take governance of the campaign seriously, he did what I have seen him do often before – say this was not the forum to raise such things, there are processes, they need to be followed. In truth there are no processes that any well run organisation would recognise as such. That is how he likes it.
In allowing things to get to this pass, he, and to a lesser extent all of us involved, are letting down the millions of people who in their different ways have been getting behind the People’s Vote, taking it from a standing start to central to the debate on the most important issue facing the country. I know what my motivations are. I cannot for the life of me work out Rudd’s. But I am pretty sure that unless this is resolved satisfactorily, the chances of getting a referendum are diminished and the chances of winning it if and when we get there are diminished too.
Of course now the election is under way, it is the main politicians who will be centre stage and rightly so. But this is in many ways the most unpredictable and complicated election any of us have been involved in. It is not just about Brexit but a lot of it is. It is not just about a second referendum but it is almost certainly the last chance to get one.
Wrecking one of the most successful, fast growing movements of modern times amid that reality is not just incomprehensible but unforgivable.
When last I saw Rudd, a couple of days before his unilateral sackings, made with no consultation with the other four groups, I asked him why he had failed to reply to letters from one of them, the Joint Media Unit. He said he didn’t even bother to read them because he was sure they would be abusive. In fact it was a reminder that the JMU, not he, had hired, raised money for and paid one of the people he was now sacking, and that indeed we had had to pay the wages of Patrick Heneghan because the fundraising of other parts of the coalition, behind the brilliant People’s Vote crowdfunding operation, was so poor. It seemed fair to point out that we not he had paid for the man he was now installing without consultation on top of the pile.
Anyway the JMU has now sent him another letter, signed by all the directors. We are hardly a bunch of revolutionaries, as you shall see. I think that as a PR man, he is more likely to read if it is in the public domain, so I have posted it below. And to those young men and women stopped from working, solidarity and support. At least you can look yourselves in the mirror.
Letter as follows
We write as members of the Joint Media Unit, an independent organisation that has raised £2.1million for the People’s Vote campaign in the last 18 months.
Your hostile takeover of the People’s Vote campaign, of which Open Britain was just one constituent part, is striking for its pointless brutality and destructiveness at a time when we all need to be working together.
Just a week after you appeared back stage at the People’s Vote march in Parliament Square, glad-handing well-known speakers and soaking up the acclaim, as if the day had been entirely your achievement, you fire the campaign CEO James McGrory and Director of Communications Tom Baldwin, the very people responsible for the march and one of the most successful campaigns in recent political history. You now seek to replace them with inferior personnel, while, at the same time, menacing the staff with threats of dismissal and, in some cases, criminal action. It is unconscionable. These people have given everything to our campaign, many of them either sacrificing opportunities of much better paid work, or their studies to fight for the People’s Vote.
It is shocking that you unilaterally took the decision to fire Tom Baldwin, who the JMU headhunted, appointed and paid for, but the even greater offence is the disrespect you have shown to the people that have fought from April 2018 to make the idea of the People’s Vote fly. In less than 18 months it has been baked into the national discourse so that even now it remains a realistic option for our country. Your contribution for much of this time has been to snipe and undermine and dodge repeated approaches to sort out the governance of the campaign. How is it that you have contributed so meagrely in terms of money and imaginative ideas in these last few months, yet now feel entitled to discard and belittle this fine group of people?
There are several areas of concern.
We have lost crucial funding leads because of what is widely regarded as mayhem at Millbank Tower.
There has been a severe breach of trust between constituent parts of the campaign.
The media has been misled, particularly in your assertion that there would be roles for people who had already been fired by you. You have also presented yourself as the man to bring unity despite being responsible for the greatest act of destabilisation that this brilliant campaign has ever had to contend with.
There has been no due diligence on one individual, who you have promoted, despite outstanding allegations of a very serious nature.
Perhaps this is the way you do business, but it was shocking to our committee, which consists of politicians, bankers and journalists who are, after all, used to the rough and tumble of professional life, that you were not being held to account by your board during all your manoeuvrings this summer. Then we learnt that you disabled the proper mechanisms of oversight by taking complete control and placing all the power into a company with a much smaller and even more compliant board. Voices that opposed your actions were isolated and silenced by you. That sort of behaviour cannot impress Finsbury’s clients in the City, but it is even more inappropriate in the world of campaigning, which requires trust, dedication, tolerance, flair and generosity of spirit. All those rare qualities were embodied in the People’s Vote until last weekend. In short, Vote Leave could not have designed a more effective paralysis of our campaign at this moment in the country’s crisis.
We conclude by stating that we support those members of staff who have been so poorly treated by you and those members of the Open Britain board who have stated they have no confidence in you. Our board member Baroness Wheatcroft, was part of Lord Kerr’s delegation that sought to bring this crisis to an end on Wednesday October 30. What now do you propose to do to get the People’s Vote campaign back on course and fully functioning with the staff who have made this campaign what it is?
Simon Clement Davies