Episode 115 – Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) speaks to journalist Peter Geoghegan (@peterkgeoghegan) at Open Democracy (@opendemocracy) about the Dark Money behind Brexit. Plus May’s speech/dance/mess, Michael Gove wants you to search in the bins and a new jingle and section all about Disgraced MP Liam The Disgrace Fox The Disgrace. You’re welcome.
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Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) speaks to journalist Peter Geoghegan (@peterkgeoghegan) at Open Democracy (@opendemocracy) about the Dark Money behind Brexit. Plus May’s speech/dance/mess, Michael Gove wants you to search in the bins and a new jingle and section all about Disgraced MP Liam The Disgrace Fox The Disgrace. You’re welcome.
Links and sources of info from Peter’s interview:
• Peter Geoghegan on Twitter – https://twitter.com/PeterKGeoghegan
• Peter Geoghegan’s website – https://www.petergeoghegan.com/
• Open Democracy UK on Twitter – https://twitter.com/opendemocracyuk
• Open Democracy website – https://www.opendemocracy.net/
• Adam Ramsay on Twitter – https://twitter.com/AdamRamsay
• Jenna Corderoy on Twitter – https://twitter.com/JennaCorderoy
• The Good Law Project on Twitter – https://twitter.com/GoodLawProject
• Carole Cadwalla on Twitter – https://twitter.com/carolecadwalla
• David Pegg on Twitter – https://twitter.com/davidtpegg
• Rob Evans on Twitter – https://twitter.com/robevansgdn
• Bloomberg’s Brexit website – https://www.bloomberg.com/brexit
• Bloomberg Politics on Twitter – https://twitter.com/bpolitics
All the usual ParPolBro stuff:
• Twitter – twitter.com/ParPolBro and twitter.com/TiernanDouieb
• Facebook – www.facebook.com/groups/ParPolBro
• Website – www.tiernandouieb.co.uk/podcast
• Donate to the Patreon – www.patreon.com/parpolbro
• Buy me a coffee – ko-fi.com/parpolbro
• Review the show on iTunes – itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/partly-political-broadcast/id1075342863?mt=2
• Review the show on Stitcher – www.stitcher.com/podcast/partly-political-broadcast
• The Last Skeptik – www.thelastskeptik.com
Hello and welcome to the Partly Political Broadcast podcast, the podcast that laughs in the face of politics only for politics to laugh with it, causing me to say no wait, we were definitely laughing at you. This is episode 115, I’m Tiernan Douieb and this week as Prime Minister and what would happen if you swapped the fly in The Fly with a praying mantis, Theresa May, as she makes a bid for the centre ground, I get the feeling if she won, it, much like that Banksy painting, would immediately go through the shredder.
Yes, in her speech to the Conservative conference last week, the leader of Great Britain danced onstage to ABBA, no not to SOS but Dancing Queen, with all the comfortable ease of someone with two broken legs trying to walk on ice, stating that post Brexit Britain is full of promise, which means nothing when it comes from a party who regularly don’t keep theirs. Then declaring that austerity has ended, despite everyone who it affects finding it a lot more like a Peter Jackson film where they’ll no doubt watch it attempt to end for several years with no definite fulfilling pay off. Because that’s where politics is right now, full of unsubstantiated statements that no one cares about because ooh ooh she did a funny jig. It’s only a matter of time before journalistic opinion pieces have headlines like ‘Trump’s biggest mistake was forgetting to do the floss while destroying women’s rights’ or ‘Why Victor Orban needs to combine his racism with some well-timed dabs.’ Other lowlights from May’s speech included suggesting telling people who moan about the NHS about how much extra funding the Conservatives are giving to it, as though that’ll somehow help with reducing anesthetic costs, and complaining that nationalization would cost not government money, but your money, forgetting that government money, is largely your money, because that’s how tax works.
The day before the Conservatives revealed their new immigration plan, which seemed like a horror remake of the hostile environment policy, directed by James Wan who then wouldn’t be allowed in the country to do press interviews about it. Under this plan, announced by wired baked bean and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, in order to stay in the UK, immigrants will need a high skilled job with a salary of around £50,000. So now we’re just waiting for the policy that will go hand in hand with this, where the government announce nurses, social workers, care workers and other jobs that are hugely understaffed and largely filled by workers from abroad, will now get a massive increase in wages. Yeah? Any minute now right? Any…minute …now….guys? Guys? £50k is a bizarre number when the average wage in the UK is £27600. I mean nothing helps the country’s xenophobic rhetoric like letting people come over here, taking all our management positions, leaving us to do the really crappy low wage stuff that no one wants to apply to do in the first place. There will also now be a new British values test which sounds bollocks but I’m at least hoping it just involves the candidate looking at a series of things and if they like any of them with even grumbling a bit, then they fail. Either that or to fit current mood, they’ll probably have to look at a series of facts about how much migration actually contributes to the UK rather than degrades but ignore them to insult themselves about being a health tourist before carving a union jack into their face and running into a wall 40 times over with the hope that it’ll somehow become a door at some point. It is still so strange that our government are happy to shout nationalism about how we’re the best country in the world while then being angry that anyone should want to come here, and therefore try their hardest to make things so shit it puts everyone off. That policy was one of just a few that were mentioned all conference with another being that heterosexual partners can now legally enter a civil partnership instead of a marriage, which as many know, is rarely civil. There’s going to be an emergency £240m given for hospital beds this winter, which is not enough and slightly countered by the £1.3bn that will be cut from council services meaning they’ll have even less adult and child social care meaning hospitals will likely be more full. Conservative policies are so often like ones of those sliding puzzles where you move a square to fill a gap that’s been left by moving another square, while at the same time an obvious hole appears elsewhere.
Shit Bagpuss Boris Johnson gave a speech to a large crowd, presumably either because they heard it was about to rain outside or maybe they wanted an expert guide to doing clowning badly? They were, as a result of their poor life choices subjective to a boring diatribe, mostly about how dangerous Labour leader and low budget Ian McKellen character Jeremy Corbyn is, with Boris referring to him as a Tony Benn tribute act which is rich coming from someone who looks like the winner of a Worzel Gummidge stuffed with offal competition. And the rest was him slagging off May’s Brexit plan by saying it is dangerous and unstable in yet another example of Boris’s inability to shout anything that isn’t just a Freudian projection and a cry for help.
Then to finish, like she’d just lost at Strictly, May did a dance and tried to persuade people that they should choose the Conservatives because of all the stuff they say they’ve done but haven’t. This combined with lots about again, how dangerous useless Labour are or how useless dangerous Labour are, and how hard times will be over when we get a good deal from Brexit which she isn’t sure how to do and looks less and less likely everyday. Best sales tactic ever. She might as well try to sell you a car by saying ‘well it isn’t a sick horse and it will go fast once we work out how to put an engine in it.’ May reiterated all this in a piece in the Observer on Sunday, despite it being revealed earlier in the week that she no longer reads newspapers herself because it’s better for her wellbeing to enjoy them yet thinks she can sway the British public by ruining their mental health on a Sunday with her words. Thanks tons!
As May stated that Conservatives are the only choice for the future, Environment Secretary and face drawn on a ball horn Michael Gove announced his big plan for post Brexit Britain, which is to open waste dumps for business allowing people to hunt for gold in other’s rubbish. Yet another Freudian projection on how people had to sift through a ton of shit at the Tory Conference to find a single policy. So, there you go, as Theresa May said, we have everything we need to succeed, you’ll just probably have to fight an angry fox for it, before going to A&E for tetanus jabs.
Meanwhile in the other conferences of the week, leader of the SNP and one of the original ESPers in Akira Nicola Sturgeon has said that her party would back a second referendum aka a People’s Vote which I know is supportive of Scottish people voting to Remain by 62% but I also can’t help but wonder if it fulfils the gap that’s been left by having some sort of election every year since 2014 till this year. At the Green Party conference they said that the work-life balance is in crisis, and that instead of the often confusing GDP a free time index should be used to judge how the UK is doing. A free time index? Putting that together just sounds like more work to me.
In other news, in the US haunted Cape Rain Frog Brett Kavanaugh has been elected to the Supreme Court after they were so impressed by him crying hysterically about drinking beer everyone at his Senate hearing ignored all the evidence that he likely sexually assaulted Christine Blaisey Ford in their high school years. Therefore by appointing him, something that has pleased physical manifestation of trapped wind and President Donald Trump so you know it’s a bad thing – the US have proved that justice is blind, just only when it comes to women’s rights. And the IPCC – as in the intergovernmental panel on climate change, not the Independent Office For Police Conduct or the niche group that really want you to watch them take a leak – they have released a report that says there needs to be rapid and significant changes now or we’ll be all doomed in about 12 years which judging by how the UK government work, means they’ll look at it in about 11 years time then argue with each other about what to do, hoping to ask the weather for a transitional phase where maybe the rising sea is just at knee level for two years till we can sort things out. It was clever of the IPCC to say this was the final call. If they can find a small bell to ring with that I reckon the UK will fight each other to get their climate change tackling in before the lights go up and everyone’s forced to leave.
Howdy podfolks! How’s you? Yes that was a cheery bit on climate change just there. Despite the years of people demanding we all get out of our echo chambers, yadda yadda yadda, you know just so they could burgle them and we’d come home to an empty quiet chamber as an echo thief runs off with a bag full of them. Which you think would be easy to catch but then I guess they’d always sound miles away. Anyway, everyone demanded that and I did spend some time looking at climate change denier stuff, denier not denier, like some particularly stupid tights, and just couldn’t fathom it at all. I mean even if you didn’t believe in it why wouldn’t you want nicer air or sea anyway? Even if you know you’ll make more money churning out horrid smoke from your metal holes, then surely you’d have to stop at some point and think ‘oh I’ll probably have to live in this now so I should stop?’ So weird. I always see it as like Pascal’s wager where he said you may as well believe in God because if he or she exists, then job done, and if he or she doesn’t then you’ve lived by a moral code anyway and not lost anything. Except that’s balls because I sleep in on Sundays and I haven’t killed anyone. Yet. That’s not true actually. The sleeping in bit I mean, I have a baby daughter, I haven’t slept in on any day for 6 months. Which to be fair, has made me want to kill several people. I definitely think sleeping rather than religion saves a lot more people. Anyway, all I was saying is that like pascal’s wager you may as well try to avert climate change because if it’s happening then hooray you’ve stopped it and we haven’t all died by melting in a hell firebomb tsunami earthquake sky storm, and if it isn’t, which it definitely definitely is, then look how nice it is going to the beach without getting your nads caught in a beercan holder?
Sorry, what I meant to say was welcome again to the podcast and thank you all for listening and boy oh boy what a podcast interview I have for you this week. But onto that in a minute, first a quick thank you to Kat for the ko-fi donation which this week was used on a cold caffeine full fizzy drink because hey, it’s still caffeine and this global warming means I’m regularly walking outside thinking ‘well it’s October and I’m cold now’ before an hour later slowly melting because the weather’s a dick. If you can spare £3 to buy me a one off coffee for shouting this into your ears each week then please do at ko-fi.com/parpolbro or if you fancy doing a more monthly thing to show your ‘preciation for these sounds, please join the Patreon at patreon.com/parpolbro. And if you can’t do either of those things, it’s cool, I can’t either which is why I haven’t joined my own patreon because fuck that, then please just review the show on the podcast app of your choice whether that’s iTunes, Stitcher, Podbean, Castbox or perhaps one of the niche ones like iGoons, which only plays episodes of the Goon Show, Twitcher just for birdspotters, Bodpean which is, er, all themed on the 70s children’s show box or Bastcox which is to do with deep fried er, genitals. Let’s leave that there just please review the show please. And lastly if you could just tell other people to listen. This show gains new listeners every week which is lovely and much appreciated but I’ve only ever been at the 300’s in the iTunes chart and I’d love to be in the, I dunno, 200’s at least once. I mean 200s are where the cool kids are right? I don’t want any of that sell out high status shit. Let’s just lurk where those big podcasts can be aware that this show exists and be slightly scared about it, without knowing that that will never happen as it’s full of odd rambling admin bits like this that no one really likes. Although weirdly this show is at position number 212 in the Botswana Apple podcast so Dumelang to all of you there for that. I hope I haven’t said that wrong and offended you all. I bet I’ll find I’m at position 214 next week, or worse that there are only 212 podcasts in Botswana. Sigh.
On this week’s show I interviewed Peter Geoghegan from Open Democracy all about his investigation into the Dark Money that funds the DUP and the Vote Leave campaign. Plus: Brexit Fallout returns because I know you were all missing it. I know you were. Don’t lie. Although if you do lie, you’ll probably get to join the Department for Exiting The European Union and it’s nice to have career goals eh? But of course, before all of that, here is this goddamn thang:
While Theresa May was in the midst of busting moves and regaling the Conservative Conference with all the things she hasn’t actually achieved, the Court of Appeal made a pretty important announcement that the government broke the law in its treatment of child refugees who were rejected under the Dubs amendment scheme. Do you remember the Dubs amendment scheme? Created by Lord Dubs who forever sounds like he could be an amazing grime artist but is in fact a Labour peer who was a child refugee from Czechoslovakia who arrived in the UK when his country was invaded by the Nazis in World War 2. You know, in that time many years ago before Nazis were too busy on Twitter or as part of the US government. Well there is an EU law called the Dublin III regulation that says families have the right to stay together so refugees have a right to join families in another country so they can be, well, a family. But there are high amounts of unaccompanied children as part of the current refugees crisis and Lord Dubs made a scheme so England and Wales could take them in to provide them with shelter and while he didn’t say exactly how many the scheme would help, he said it could help around 3000 children. Except the government realized that they were pretty busy ruining lives for British children already so put a cap on how many would benefit allowing only 480. Part of the government’s excuse was that it would just encourage young people to make the dangerous journey to the UK. Yeah sure, you know when it’d be far safer for them to just stand still in their war torn homes and wait to die. Silly kids, what are they thinking?
But after The Independent discovered that a number of children were let in under the scheme despite already being covered by the Dublin III regulation as they had family in the UK, the Court of Appeal have decided that yes, the Home Office just hate kids and actually their reasons to cap it were, and I quote ‘patently inadequate’. The brilliant charity Help Refugees had brought the appeal arguing that the government hadn’t given any of the children refused entry any sort of written details or explanation as to why, nor was there any review mechanism to challenge decisions and no way for lone child refugees to access the England or Wales court systems. Basically, they did that thing where they realized that unaccompanied kids have really got no one to back them up so fuck it, what are they going to do to complain? Blow a raspberry? Essentially the home office were being a villain in a Roald Dahl book. So now the court of appeal have made this decision, what next? Well hopefully the government can be persuaded to take more children in but oddly the only response from the Home Office is the typical gaslighting one which makes it sound like they never capped numbers in the first place. The spokesperson said ‘This judgement confirms that the government’s consultation with local authorities in which they said they could provide 480 places for eligible children from Europe was lawful and we will continue to accept further referrals and transfers are ongoing.’ Errrr. So either they are saying they ignored the cap in which case they broke their own rules and should be penalized or they are saying it never happened or more likely they just don’t like saying sorry, despite the fact that apologizing is really one of the main British Values.
The charity Help Refugees are always, always in need of donations and they are truly brilliant and important bunch of people. Do check them out at helprefugees.org, @helprefugees on Twitter or you know, come to the show I’m hosting at Backyard Comedy Club on October 24th which you can get tickets for on Tickettext.co.uk/helprefugees/chooselaughs.
You know the saying right? If life gives you legals, you make legal aid? Mmm mmm a cold glass of legal aid. Legal aid is one of the things that makes the UK, you know, a democratic place that upholds human rights. You have a right to legal representation in court, even if you can’t afford it. Well done us, what good people we be. Except journalists at Buzzfeed News have discovered that if you’ve been taking the government to court with a legal challenge then you’re likely to have had your legal aid refused which is the sort of suspish thing that might start a John Grisham novel and end with someone being kidnapped and Matthew McConnaughy mumbling things but somehow still in a sexy way. Legal Aid is handled by the Legal Aid Agency or LAA for the musical types among you, and they are meant to be independent but they are also an arm of the many armed like Kali, Ministry of Justice, and it seems as though high profile cases involving the government often get scrutinized by ministers first because there’s nothing at all odd about the people who are being taken to court looking over the challenge and thinking, nah, we’re ok not to give you money to fuck us over actually. Buzzfeed found three cases where this happened, one with a challenge against a ban on prisoners receiving books, as brought in by then Secretary of State for Justice and constant Dementor Chris Grayling, where legal aid, was, unsurprisingly blocked after a phone from, guess who? Yes, Chris Grayling. Luckily the high court overturned it and the law was changed and now prisoners can read books such as the ones that tell you all about dementors and how to beat them. People being turned down for criminal legal aid because of a subjective ‘interests of justice’ test has risen from 47% to 67% since LAA took over and lawyers and court staff are saying its judgement is now a lot harsher. All of this points to political interference in the law which isn’t what you want, well, unless you’re Chris Grayling probably. The Ministry of Justice have of course denied that that is what’s taking place and say they made changes to the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders’ act 2012, or LASPO, to make the LAA more independent and enshrine it in law. But if the law they’re enshrining it in can be blocked and interfered with by them anyway then it’s not much of an enshrining. Its more sort of telling it, it finally has its own space but actually it has to sleep on a futon in the living room. What might be good is to try and make a legal challenge to the Ministry of Justice over their handling of legal aid and apply for legal to do it and just see what happens.
INTERVIEW PART 1
The phrase Dark Money could mean a number of things from a new popular rapper’s name, a TV series about people who check their wallets at night or perhaps even just what it’s known as when the French impressionist painter went through a miserable period. But Dark Money is the term that’s used for when nonprofit organisations are given funds, but don’t disclose where they are from. And currently in UK politics, Dark Money is the term that journalists Peter Geoghegan and Adam Ramsay from Open Democracy call the trail of suspicious donations that have funded Northern Ireland’s official party of dowdy party poopers the DUP and also the Vote Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum. Over the past year Peter and Adam have been trying to work out why such vast sums of money are untraceable and just in who’s interest it’s been to provide such funding. Their investigations so far have pointed to several odd locations such as Saudi intelligence officials and a group called the Constitutional Research council, as well as raising lots of questions such as how could human pedal bin Arron Banks fund Vote Leave quite so much when he really doesn’t have as much money as he says in the first place? Not that that’s too surprisingly. Banks always strikes me as the sort of arsehole who’d stand waving a pint around in the pub boasting about his rolls Royce then wobble off to try and quietly leave on a child’s tricycle that someone has attached to with a shoelace to some roadkill.
All of this so far raises a lot of questions such as the legitimacy of elections and referendums all the way to what does it mean for transparency in politics, just how effective is the Electoral Commission and who can I persuade to spit rhymes under the pseudonym of Dark Money cos that really is a good rap name. So this week I spoke to Peter Geoghegan to ask him all about it. Peter is an Irish investigative journalist based in Scotland, who has written for many publications all over the world, as well as his own book ‘The People’s Referendum: Why Scotland Will Never Be The Same Again’ in 2015. Peter very kindly took time out of his stupidly busy schedule to tell me how the investigation began, what they’ve been finding out and just what it all means for the future of politics.
Here is Peter:
INTERVIEW PART 1
Tiernan Douieb: So what made you and Adam Ramsay, who you work with at openDemocracy, what you made you both realise that something wasn’t right about the funding of the Leave campaign and the DUP in the first place?
Peter Geoghegan: I became interested, I guess, in the funding of the DUP’s Brexit campaign a few days actually before the referendum back in June 2016. I was covering the campaign for the Irish Times, I was working mainly in Scotland but also in the north of England, and I was in Sunderland, I was sitting on the suburban train and I picked up a copy of the Metro freesheet and it had a big, huge 4-page wrapround ad ‘Vote Leave, take back control’. I was looking at the ad and I was looking at the back page as I flipped it over and I could see the logo of the DUP and it said ‘sponsored by the Democratic Unionist Party’. I thought this was interesting because the DUP are a party I’ve known for quite a few years, I’ve worked in Northern Irish politics in the past, reporting on Northern Irish politics, so I was quite struck on why is the DUP advertising in such an ostentatious fashion in Sunderland, it’s a long way from the glens of Antrim, you know, what’s going on? A bit of me was wondering how they could afford such a huge, big ad. Then Adam Ramsay, who at the time was just a friend of mine really, got in touch with me a few months later asking about the DUP and Brexit, he said he’d be quite interested because he’d noticed something else. A few days before the Brexit vote, he was in Edinburgh where he lives and he was walking around the centre of the town and he noticed there were people out with Vote Leave campaign banners and placards. He was talking to them, and while he was speaking to them, he noticed that their placards had written on the bottom of them an imprint that said ‘Funded by the Democratic Unionist Party’ with an address in Belfast. So he was quite interested in what DUP placards were doing in Edinburgh. So the 2 of us started talking about these different aspects of the DUP’s funding campaign, and one of the things that also struck my interest was that by this stage, under the Electoral Commission rules, campaign finances of under £250,000 are declared first, then over £250,000 a few months later. Basically, if you spent more money, they gave you a bit longer to put it all together. By the time we were starting to speak to each other, the Electoral Commission had already published their small funding, under £250,000, and the DUP wasn’t in it. That meant that the DUP had spent more than £250,000 on the Brexit campaign, which is a huge amount of money for a Northern Irish political party. So, it was a confluence of these different things that started us asking questions about what was going on here and where the DUP got so much money to fund the campaign, and why were they campaigning seemingly so much in Great Britain and not in Northern Ireland?
TD: Yes, that is really bizarre for a political group that only really runs for election ever in Northern Ireland, why on earth would you be campaigning in Sunderland? That’s bizarre. Your investigation, I’ve been following it quite a lot over the past year and a half, it’s led you down some quite interesting routes and some quite interesting connections. I realise this is a very big question to ask but what have you been able to find out so far, or has it mainly just been raising even more questions about non-transparent funds in the political domain?
PG: That’s true. 18 months ago, after I filed off my first story about the DUP’s Brexit funding, if you’d told me 18 months later I’d still be talking about it and other things, I wouldn’t have believed you, I’d have thought you were totally crazy. I thought it was one of those things that would just be one story or a couple of stories and then you’d move on. Really it’s opened up a huge strand of investigation, which we’ve called ‘Dark Money’, but which broadly looks at political financing and political campaigning and probably has looked quite a lot at Brexit in particular. There have been a couple of different strands to it really, one has been the DUP and the DUP’s funding. We still don’t know who the funder of the DUP was because this money was donated at a time when Northern Ireland still had donor secrecy laws, which basically meant that people who gave money to political campaigns in Northern Ireland were not revealed. It was the exact same regime as in the rest of the UK, political parties had to submit their spending and everything else to the Electoral Commission, they had to abide by exactly the same rules, they had to know where their money came from, the only difference was in Northern Ireland information about the political donors themselves wasn’t made public. That’s the reason we don’t know who this group called the Constitutional Research Council, who the DUP have said gave them the money, we don’t know anything about them because the Electoral Commission can’t publish any of their details because they’re a political donor in Northern Ireland. Actually, if somebody from the Electoral Commission was to give information away that could reveal who the donor was, they could face up to 6 months in prison. So we still don’t know who the donor to the DUP is, but we have done probably dozens of stories looking at various aspects of this, we’ve established more questions about the DUP donations, we’ve established very serious questions about whether the DUP knows who exactly is behind the Constitutional Research Council, basically does the DUP know who gave them the money? This seems to be quite unclear if the DUP does actually know, and if they don’t know then they a breaking electoral law. We’ve also discovered that the Constitutional Research Council, the people who gave the DUP this money, were fined by the Electoral Commission for not providing paperwork before the Brexit vote. We’ve raised more questions about other aspects of the DUP, this specific donation to the DUP, and we’ve also, I think, been instrumental in changing donor secrecy laws in Northern Ireland, so no longer in Northern Ireland is there donor secrecy, that was changed in 2017. So, now political donations in Northern Ireland have to be revealed. I think it’s fair to say our work and the work of other journalists was really important in that, but with a caveat that the UK government, which obviously relies on the DUP for votes, decided not to backdate it, this is 2014, which they could easily have done. This legislation already exists, they could have backdated it to 2014, the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland asked them to backdate it to 2014 so they could publish all the documentation they had on political nations, but the British government said no, they were only going to bring in donor transparency from June 2017 on, which meant we didn’t know who’s the DUP’s Brexit funder. So you’ve got the DUP as one aspect of this, but we also did a lot of work looking at the official Vote Leave campaign, particularly a young man named Darren Grimes, who maybe some of your listeners have now heard of, but we started publishing stories about Darren Grimes about a year ago. We did a lot of FOI-ing around that (?) the Electoral Commission and we discovered that the Electoral Commission had internally said that Darren Grimes-, at the time he was a fashion student and he ran a small campaign called BeLeave, a young pro-Brexit campaign, and in about 3 months BeLeave raised about £100 for their campaign, they did some social media work, but in the last few days of the referendum, BeLeave spent £675,000. Almost all this money was given to BeLeave by the official Vote Leave campaign, because the official Vote Leave campaign could only spend up to £7 million and was running out of money that it could spend so it almost needed to give the money to other people. But you’re not allowed to work together, campaigns aren’t allowed to work together in a referendum or British politics, it’s against electoral law, and if they do work together, they have to jointly declare their funding or spending. This basically means, if you’re Vote Leave and you’ve spent £7 million, you can’t just create new groups and give them money to override the spending, but that’s kind of what happened in this case. We discovered that not only was Darren Grimes given this huge amount of money, this £675,000, he actually didn’t actually direct how it was spent, and the money was never even given to him. Vote Leave spent this money with a small data analytics company called AggregateIQ, and they had spent this money on behalf of Darren Grimes but Darren Grimes never saw the money. So, we were able to establish that this had happened but also the Electoral Commission had seen this and then had talked to each other internally saying how unusual it was but decided not to open a full investigation. In the wake of that story, The Good Law Project and Jolyon Maugham opened up a judicial review against the Electoral Commission, and the Electoral Commision themselves decided to reopen their investigation into Darren Grimes. Darren Grimes was subsequently fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission and Vote Leave were also fined £20,000 as well. So, we looked at Vote Leave, that was part of our work. Probably the third prong of our work was a man called Arron Banks and Leave.EU, and Arron Banks is known as biggest Brexit funder, he spent millions and millions of pounds on the Brexit campaign through his campaign called Leave.EU. A series of questions have now come into the public domain about Arron Banks in the last few months, especially concerns about his links with Russia, but I think it’s fair to say that we were working on this stuff about a year ago or even more, we published a series of long articles looking at Arron Banks’ finances, raising serious questions about Arron Banks’ finances, you know, his insurance companies, issues around solvency of his insurance companies, and questions about how somebody whose businesses seem to be worth less than he said they were was able to spend so much money on a Brexit campaign. I’ve done a lot of work looking at various aspects of Arron Banks’ businesses, we also revealed his diamond mines in Lesotho, which he said he’s going to use to fund a new UKIP-style party with Nigel Farage at its head. We revealed that actually these diamond mines hadn’t produced any diamonds, and he said he was being paid to give political advice to a local political party in Lesotho, and we were able to reveal that actually he was giving money to the political party in Lesotho rather than the other way round. We ended up, from on small story, spiralling out to see a broader pattern of questions about how the Brexit vote had been regulated and how some of this money had been spent.
TD: It’s amazing some of the results you’ve got out of that and that you’ve been able to find out over the past 3 years. It does raise quite a lot of questions because you mentioned with Darren Grimes obviously there’s the connection to AggregateIQ, which are part of the same group as Cambridge Analytica, then there are all the connections revealed back to Trump’s campaign. Are you feeling that this is uncovering something bigger about the election motives of the Leave campaign or the DUP? I know the hope of the Remainers that this could maybe delegitimise the referendum, but do you think this leads to something darker or more suspicious, or is it just fiddling accounts? What’s your view on it so far?
PG: I think the big issue is that we don’t know, I think that’s a big challenge because we don’t know, because we haven’t had a thorough investigation, we’ve had a series of piecemeal investigations. The Electoral Commission have had some small investigations, journalists like myself and Carole Cadwalladr and others have been burrowing around this and finding new information. We had the fake news inquiry, which the DCMS issued, the Houses of Parliament, which was lead by Damian Collins, they issued a report, but we’ve not had anything exhaustive and we’ve not had anything that involves the police or other official bodies like the National Crime Agency. So, in the absence of that, it’s very hard to say. I think because we don’t really have concrete information about the whole scope of this, it’s left a lot of questions. I think that’s the big problem at the moment for British democracy, people like myself and others have been revealing concerns about aspects of this but we’ve not seen a comprehensive attempt to get to the bottom of what’s happening. It’s hard not to look across the water to America where you’ve got the Mueller investigation going on and really burrowing down into specifics, specific meetings, what was discussed, who was there, they’re really burrowing into it. We’re not seeing anything similar like that happening in the United Kingdom, I think that’s the much bigger concern. It’s almost impossible to say for certain what’s happened without a fully fledged inquiry.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 1
And we’ll be back with Peter in a minute but first…I know you’re excited, because yes, it’s back:
Ok so there is some movement in Brexit negotiations. Yes I know! How exciting! What sort of movement you ask? Well you know that robot dance that May did before her speech that made everyone feel a bit sad but also ill at the same time? Kind of that sort of movement. In that something is definitely moving but its very hard to tell in which direction and it’s very hard to feel happy about it instead of just a bit disgruntled and concerned. But May has said that she is ready to propose a Grand Bargain which is a possibly an upcoming film by Wes Anderson but also is mainly a concession meaning the UK would stay tied to the Customs Union rules on goods and probably bads and mediums after we leave in 2020. Obviously, we’ll have left the customs union only we also sort of won’t and strangely that hasn’t upset and confused everyone. President of the European Comission and what if Morecambe and Wise had had a lovechild Jean Claude Juncker and President of The European Council and Time Bandit Donald Tusk have both said that chances of a deal have increased and that there’s likely to be an agreement by the end of the year. Though you could also read those statements as them saying we’ve gone from minus chance to zero chance and that maybe Santa will bring an agreement as they don’t trust the British government to remotely handle it.
May’s plan though, which is currently quite vague, would allow for a backstop to the Irish Border issue because still no one has any valid ideas what to do with it other than tell everyone else that their ideas are shit. I mean that’s what Conservative Brexiteers excel at, and they are currently demanding May’s plan state that the Grand Bargain last until 2022 at the latest, by which point they’ll have maybe worked out which plans they hate the most while still refusing to go along with any others. Which could be an idea in itself, where instead of a physical border, you have some sort of negative border, which is just people standing around telling you everything you’re transporting sounds awful and is probably disgusting and if you have the mental will to deal with that, you can carry on. I’m a goddamn genius. The DUP have said they do not want any checks at any sort of border and DUP leader and Paul Merton character Arlene Foster said her lines were blood red on the issue which I’d suggest is also not a great idea for a border and would probably cause even more problems than fixing them. So, May’s plan, if it were to include a backstop which would be put in place to ensure a physical border wouldn’t happen due to NI basically staying in the customs union if no solution was found, would help, even though the DUP don’t want that either. Except that Sinn Fein and the SDLP have rejected the idea of Members of the Northern Irish Assembly having any role in deciding what kind of backstop there will be, which I suppose makes sense considering the MLA can’t even work out among themselves how have an assembly to be part of at the moment. And that’s only if the EU agree to May’s Grand Bargain sounding like a BBC daytime Tv show, even though it currently has no precise framework on how post Brexit relations would work which is the sort of thing you think you might need for a plan on how post Brexit relations would work. So right now you have a new plan from May that she’s fighting with her own party to work out, which she then has to get past the EU and then after all that, Northern Ireland have to argue amongst themselves about how to do it. So you know, things are looking at least slightly more hopeful than when May had a plan that everyone said they didn’t want and then they didn’t want it and then nothing happened. It’s all a matter of perspective you see?
And now the SNP are backing a people’s vote and with 35 members of parliament in their party, that’s the largest to back a second referendum, as well as the Lib Dems, Greens and the vague possibility that Labour may agree to one depending on what happens elsewhere and hey is there a way to bet so whoever loses we win? Still no one’s explained how they’d have time to fit in a second referendum before end of March next year but when everyone else is fantasizing about imaginary bridges to Ireland or that the EU can’t use the internet then why not just say that could happen eh?
On the plus side, two sort of good news things have happened in the way that the sort of movement with Brexit negotiations is sort of good in comparison to absolutely nothing happening. The first is that Unilever who make all of the things like Marmite and Persil and Cornettos and Domestos and PG Tips. You know, basically, dinner if you like to mix in your yeast extract with a bit of washing powder. They have decided not to move their headquarters from London to Rotterdam, and not just because of that Beautiful South track but mainly because of British shareholders not wanting them to. Now Unilever said their move wasn’t to do with Brexit but it almost definitely was, but them moving would have done stuff with stocks that I don’t understand but people with money do and they got sad. But hey now they’re staying and even though they said it wouldn’t affect jobs it now definitely hasn’t and even though they said it wasn’t to do with Brexit it probably was and you can now say it’s a good or a bad or a nothing thing depending on if you like or hate Marmite or Brexit who share only that quality and pretty much nothing else.
The other sort of good thing is that Japan have said the UK could join the Trans-Pacific Partnership after it leaves the EU, which is a trade agreement between 11 countries including Japan obvs, Canada, Australia and others so that is sort of good because that’s a hell of a lot of trade. But it is also not good because the TPP, much like the TTIP that people voted for Brexit to oppose, favours business over workers and allows things like companies to sue governments if they have health policies that don’t allowed their product to be sold or other things like that. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Brexiteers like Disgraced MP Liam The Disgrace Fox The Disgrace have been banging on about getting and while also talking about increased sovereignty. So while his face is probably lit up right now like a gerbil getting wanked off, he’s also actively happy about the UK having less sovereignty as we’ll be beholden to even bigger countries and companies too. Yeah take that democratically elected EU! We want freedom from you so we can fucked over by cigarette companies who are angry children can’t smoke in nurseries thus depriving them of an original jazz atmosphere. Also the TTP got royally fucked over by the US when Donald Trump refused to join, meaning that the US is not part of and while the UK will probably still be able to have a trade deal with the US, if they are part of the TTP and Trump is still being a maniac there’s every chance he’ll change that with a tweet at 4am in the morning while having a shit.
Oh and as for the aforementioned Disgraced Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, here’s a new section just for you:
NEW Disgraced Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox JINGLE
I thought this podcast needed a section that was just for whatever shit that has been spouted from Fox’s mouth hole has squelch landed into the world this week, because let’s face it, the twice disgraced MP has been a hole of contradictions mixed with a pot of stupidities as he’s bundled around the world meeting dictators and getting all squealy about chickens that taste like a public swimming pool after a reception class has been in it. This week Fox has said that he would back a less than perfect Brexit deal as it can be revised and improved after the UK leaves. Now aside from how desperate this makes him look, like the gullible kid at school who’d race to walk around with his pants down if it meant he could get a kiss from the pretty girl in his class, despite not realizing that he definitely won’t and he will forever be called Shitty Pants Liam for the rest of his life. Despite that, if we make a deal, who knows how long it’ll be before you can revise it? The deal could plunge the UK into a recession or who knows what and force us to sign up to all sorts of inadequate trading stances with the country suffering for years in the aftermath until something new is sorted. You can’t just faff about with it in the hope you can redo it later. That’s like a surgeon telling a heart surgery patient not to worry if they fuck it up a bit as they’ll sort out the odds and sodds once they’ve sewn him up with a knitting needle and shoelace.
How do you still have a job Disgraced MP Liam The Disgrace Fox The Disgrace?
And now back to Peter…
INTERVIEW PART 2
TD: I supposed that’s particularly terrifying considering it’s to do with, for example, the referendum, which has had such political consequences and will have social consequences for many years to come, but we don’t quite know who’s been funding a lot of the campaigns towards it.
PG: I think there’s that aspect of it and there’s also the kind of wider question as well, the unwillingness from many, especially an official to actually ask that question, to want to answer that question. People like myself and others are accused of having some partisan axe to grind and being Remoaners or something rather than being journalists who are trying to figure out exactly what was happening. I think the failure to do that and the failure to want to talk about what actually happened is a bad sign not just about the referendum itself, this isn’t just about the Brexit vote, this is how our politics is regulated and how our politics functions. I think it raises serious issues and concerns about what could happen into the future.
TD: Also it’s not just these sorts of campaigns. One of the things I keep realising is there’s a real lack of transparency overall in political funding. I know you said they have to declare donors over a certain amount but often there’s a lot of Conservative party donors that are business-led and we don’t quite know what effect that has on their policies, there’s the Taxpayers’ Alliance and thinktanks like that that won’t declare who funds them. Do you think that’s a larger problem overall?
PG: Yes, I think it is. I think it’s a huge problem. This is a much bigger problem, the much bigger problem is how easy it is to access and distort and influence the British political process. The DUP’s money and some of the aspects around Arron Banks and stuff is a very obvious sense of ‘Oh, actually this is money that we don’t know where it’s coming from and it’s kind of looking crooked, what’s going on?’ Actually what I think is almost more influential is how money is used to shape ideas, money from unknown sources is shaping ideas. You’re not really going to see the Conservative party being given hundreds of thousands of pounds in a brown envelope, I think that’s unlikely, that’s not really how politics works, but what you do see is thinktanks like Institute of Economic Affairs, the other thinktanks who are funded, who are not transparent about their funding, and the work that they do then directly influences Conservative policy, they’re very pro-tax haven, anti-regulation, want to privatise the NHS. What you’ve got now is political parties in the UK and elsewhere, they’re much smaller organisations than they used to be, they’ve got very little policy-making capacity, they often outsource their ideas to the wider world, and if you’re someone who wants to influence the political process, a couple of million pounds can go a long way in terms of hiring some of these thinktank to produce a couple of thin reports. They’ll then be the people who go on television to talk about these things and to create this idea that this is a viable alternative, and that can easily feed its way into the political process, into political parties. I think if you look at that whole system of influence works, one level is money from unknown sources, but actually much more pernicious, that I would argue, widespread way in which that kind of money infiltrates the political process isn’t through the funding of political parties, it’s the funding of things like thinktanks and policymaking organisations that then create these policies, they look like they’re legitimate, they’re not paid for, they look legitimate, but actually they are paid for. That then spreads into the political process.
TD: You mentioned earlier about The Good Law Project winning the case in the High Court about the Vote Leave campaign donations, are the Electoral Commission out of date? Do they need changing and updating? Am I correct in thinking they got the law wrong with Vote Leave’s spending and they advised that they could spend more but didn’t advise the Remain campaign? Is that the right way round?
PG: Yes, basically. Jolyon Maugham’s case has found that the Electoral Commission basically misunderstood the law, and I think it’s been quite concerning. I’m very much in favour of regulation, but I think the behaviour of the Electoral Commission does need to be looked at. Just last week I published another story about the DUP and the Electoral Commission, looking at emails that the Electoral Commission, internal emails from the Electoral Commission, that were sent after a very, very strong BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight documentary back in July that raised more questions about the DUP vote. While you could see from these emails the Electoral Commission talking amongst themselves going, ‘These are really concerning,’ and then not investigating, saying, ‘It’s up to the BBC to provide evidence, we don’t have to do anything.’ But actually the Electoral Commission’s job is to investigate, it’s not for journalists to do the Electoral Commission’s job for it. We saw the exact same thing with Darren Grimes, which we proved on openDemocracy, the Electoral Commission internally were saying, ‘This spending is very unusual, it’s very strange but we’re not going to investigate.’ It’s only when outside pressure came on board with the investigation that they ended up levying record fines. I think that’s very worrying, the unwillingness of the regulator to get involved, to actually do its job, to go an investigate things, to go and find out what’s happening. That makes me quite concerned about how fit for purpose the regulator is to deal with these challenges, to deal with this new age in politics, that’s very concerning. We’re outsourcing a lot of our (?) to tech companies, so tech companies are saying, ‘We put the imprint of whoever’s paying for the political ad on it,’ but that shouldn’t be up to tech companies, it shouldn’t be up to Facebook, Twitter and Google to decide who regulates democracy, it should be something that the state decides and then pushes that upon the companies that operate within its borders rather than the other way around. I think that what you’re seeing from the Electoral Commission across the piece has a real surprising level of timidity. Again, Jolyon Maugham’s case that they won the High Court, the Electoral Commission have announced that they’re going to challenge that verdict, which I think again is a very strange approach to public money. The Electoral Commission are going to use these public funds to challenge a High Court ruling and fight against it, rather than asking the difficult questions about how did we end up misreading the legislation in the first place and are we doing that in other instances?
TD: I didn’t know about that, that’s a really bizarre stance to take. I think that surely is going to lose them even more faith from the public. If the regulator isn’t going with the verdict of the High Court-, that’s really odd, I didn’t know that at all.
PG: Yes, I think it’s a very curious decision. I don’t quite understand what they’re hoping to gain from it, rather than actually holding their hands up and saying, ‘What went wrong in this case? How do we address it?’ they seem to be going the other way around it and I think it’s quite a dangerous precedent they’re trying to set.
TD: Is part of it, I don’t know how well the Electoral Commission is funded, I don’t really know a lot about it or who it’s funded by, but is part of it, and similarly with the journalism in this case, because I know you had to crowdfund to do this investigation, is there an issue that there just aren’t a lot of funds behind properly looking into all of this stuff?
PG: I think that’s part of it too, I think there’s both the political unwillingness to deal with this because it quite quickly descends into the will of the people’s thought, this kind of slightly dead end conversation, but also there is definitely across the piece, you see this not just with electoral regulations but everything from HMRC from tax returns to the Charity Commission, you see this across the piece. You see a kind of funding being taken away from these regulatory bodies, and also just a concern because they are an arm’s length from government but their funding comes from government so it is in their interests to not rock the boat too much, and I think that’s partly what we’re seeing in the regulatory environment. This is the same environment with the financial regulations in the run up to the financial crisis and arguably since.
TD: Just a last question, which is something that I ask all of the guests, apart from yourself and Adam at openDemocracy, which is obviously where all of the listeners should go to to follow this case-, I assume you’ve got more of the investigation coming?
PG: Yes, we’re still working on this story, yes, we publish frequently. We had a new story last week, we’ve probably got a few more stories this week. We’ve been publishing consistently on this area over the last 18 months and probably will continue to do so, I think we’ve got some other larger investigations coming down the track as well. So it’s an exciting time for openDemocracy investigations, which I’m lucky enough to be sitting at the top of. I think it’s been really eye opening for us and for me to see how from one small story how much more cascades out of it.
TD: Apart from yourselves, who listeners should definitely follow and read up on, who else would you recommend that people follow on this story of dark money or just on the issue of political transparency overall? I know you mentioned Carole Cadwalladr earlier, is there anyone else as well?
PG: There are lots of people doing great work. Obviously I’d recommend following on Twitter and other mediums my colleague Adam Ramsay and Jenna Corderoy who works with me too. Carole Cadwalladr at the Guardian, the Guardian investigations team, David Pegg and Rob Evans have started doing work in this space as well, it’s really good. Bloomberg have done some fantastic investigations into the aspects of the Brexit referendum vote itself and on the night of the vote. So there has been some really good journalism starting to be done around it. I think for a lot of people, a lot of journalists might have talked that really the Brexit vote’s over, and I was surprised when we started off working in this area how little work was being done but that’s definitely changed in the last few months as more people have come on board and have started doing work in the space.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 2
Thank you to Peter for having time to give me an overview of his and Adam’s investigation. You can go back through all of their articles following the Dark Money at OpenDemocracy.net which you can also find on Twitter @opendemocracy. Peter is on Twitter @PeterKGeoghegan and his own website is petergeoghegan.com. Adam Ramsay who was mentioned lots and was on this podcast way back when, is also on Twitter at @adamramsay too and all the other links Peter mentions will be on the partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk website soonish thanks to Kat Day and her linear note writing expertise.
Big thank you this week to Emily for asking if I could interview Peter. See? If you recommend I get in contact with people, sometimes I do listen to you. Or more importantly, some times those people reply and agree. So do still send over anyone you’d like me to get on this show or subjects you’d like me to chat to people about and I’ll try my gol’ darn best to do so. You can of course get in touch via @parpolbro on Twitter, the Partly Political Broadcast facebook group, the contact page at partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk or just email at email@example.com. Or you carve it on a tree sap and then in years time when that sap has become a huge oak or giant sycamore many will be able to read your message and relay it to me. Except it takes 20-30 years for those trees to grow and chances are climate change will kick in in 12 so it will have melted by then. It’s probably better to just email.
And that’s all for this week’s Partly Political Broadcast podcast. Thank you once again for choosing to give up an hour of your to this podcast despite knowing you’ll never get it back and please don’t forget to give this show a review on iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean or even just on Yelp and see how many people try to use the show to fix their boiler as a result. If you can, please donate to the Patreon or ko-fi pages, check out the website at partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk for extra stuff and mostly, please just spread the word about this show to other people who might just like but haven’t yet tried it.
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This will be back next week when May turns up to Brussels with no plan but tries to get the best Brexit deal for the UK by doing Gangnam Style for 6 and a half minutes until she’s forcibly removed and everyone that witnessed it sues her for therapy bills.
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