Comment

It’s time voters got the facts on Arron Banks and Leave.EU

by Luke Lythgoe | 12.06.2018

Brexit donor-in-chief Arron Banks and his Leave.EU sidekick Andy Wigmore appeared in front of the Commons “fake news” inquiry today. The pressing questions on referendum cheating – and Banks’ links to Russia – were not resolved. The theme of the hearing was instead the pair’s approach to the truth, and its place in our democracy.

There were two main lines of questioning in the hearing: whether data was shared between Leave.EU and Ukip – both fronted by Nigel Farage and funded by Banks – and Banks’ insurance business; and how closely the campaign worked with data marketing firm Cambridge Analytica. Banks and Wigmore outright denied any data sharing. They repeated the explanation that Cambridge Analytica was merely part of Leave.EU’s (unsuccessful) pitch to become the official Leave campaign and never formally hired – despite documents at the time suggesting otherwise.

The bedrock of Banks and Wigmore’s defence was that they had exaggerated the sophistication of their digital operations. Wigmore, a PR man by trade, admitted he was “guilty of slight exaggeration” and “probably a bit boastful”. “If we did it again,” Banks added, “we probably wouldn’t overstate our data.”

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The problem with using the “what I said before was incorrect” defence is that it raises doubts about whether what you’re saying now is any more accurate. As such, the hearing didn’t effectively answer any questions. Were staff from Banks’ insurance company being used by the Leave.EU campaign? Did the business share data with the campaign? And did that data end up with big data analysts in Mississippi? Banks says no; evidence from whistleblowers – whom the pair went to efforts to discredit – suggests yes.

What stood out from today’s hearing was the duo’s brazen disregard for truth. “Winning an election isn’t about facts, it’s about emotion,” said Wigmore. The campaign “exaggerated” the truth to “provoke and generate discussion” around three or four key issues.

Clearly, this tactic worked. But the problem with a dishonest political campaign is that, once won, all the crowd-pleasing hyperbole starts to fall apart. That’s what is happening right now with Brexit. The government is in a mess trying to fulfill impossible promises. Invesent has Benn stifled thanks to uncertainty. The NHS is suffering as EU staff head for the door.

Meanwhile Banks and Wigmore sit in front of a bench of MPs proudly admitting their exaggerations helped bring us to this point. If the public don’t like the real facts of Brexit now they see them, then they must have a vote on the reality of Brexit – with a chance to stay in the EU if they wish.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “It’s time voters got the facts on Arron Banks and Leave.EU”

  • It was Banks who was pushing the official Leave campaign to make immigration their main thrust towards the end of the campaign.

    Two years on, I look around and strangely, I cannot see Turks outnumbering British people, since they claimed 70 million Turks were coming here and that we could not stop them.

    In fact, although I see a scattering of East Europeans around, I cannot recall the last time I saw a Turkish national in the UK ( other than running restaurants). Have they apologised for this falsehood? Now in the UK political system it is now clear that you can say anything in an election, get away with it being proven completely false later and with no come back.

    As to over spending, there is no means of determining where online political ads come from, who pays for them, or even how prevalent they are. The Leave side were all over the net during that campaign. Even on verifiable expenditures, the Leave Campaign colluded with at least one other Leave campaign and overspent their limits, both illegally, then deleted emails to cover it up while a police raid was notified to them as being due.

    The only penalty for overspending is not a re-run or awarding the medal to the non cheats next in line as if an Olympic race, but a fine of money, of the stuff that they threw around like confetti anyway.

    Bank’s 5 hour meetings with Russian officials offered him gold mines. Why would a diplomat target a rich UK businessman to offer him mining assets just before an election they were highly interested in, where Banks was known for his anti EU support? It is obvious that this was some means of delivering wealth and dividends on probably under valued assets to deliver difficult to verify Russian money to the Leave side of the election. As it is, it was Russian banks who financed UKIP, Wilders and the French National Front and these people claim to be patriots? You could not make it up.

    I hear Banks claim wrongly on the Select Committee that the leave side were outspent by Remain, which was incorrect. Leave had several national campaigns running instead of essentially one. The overriding issue is that the popular press is in all but 1 case extremely right wing and published 35 years of a campaign of anti EU lies; all verified in their thousands; which if purchased as commercial ad space wold have cost more than the national debt. Without that, there would have been zero public demand to leave the EU.

  • I watched Banks & Wigmore appearance before the Committee and what struck me was their very relaxed attitude towards factual accuracy. They made out that spin and hyperbole are par for the course in the advertising industry, which given their backgrounds in PR and advertising, they must be well acquainted with. That may be fine when advertising soap powder or more durable products, where the public almost expect some degree of advertising hyperbole. That might mean several months of less than white shirts or a washing machine having to be replaced before time.
    But that’s not good enough for something as complex and multi-facetted as Brexit, where the consequences are far-reaching over decades.
    Clearly they had a very close relationship with Farage’s campaign. Banks was honest enough to pinpoint immigration as the issue which got attention.

    To my mind there were 2 themes in Farage’s campaign which had a big impact on voters. Firstly, the idea that Turkey, with its ca. 80 million population was about to enter the EU. With Turkey close to being a dictatorship, and with Germany close to breaking off diplomatic ties, that proposition is clearly laughable. Secondly, Farage’s spurious link between third world migration and EU free movement, highlighted by the photomontage with him holding back a long queue of refugees. What Farage, of course, forgot to point out is that you need an EU passport to exercise free movement, something that takes years to obtain (in Germany 8 years).
    It would be interesting to know how much Banks & Wigmore had to do with these highly misleading advertising pitches, which must have had a significant impact on the vote.