Red Rag : the Others Who Knew at Labour HQ

Ray CollinsThe Labour Party’s general secretary, Ray Collins, denies knowledge of the Red Rag attack site.  Yet the News of the World placed him at a planning meeting held on December 1, 2008 at Unite’s HQ.  He was there with the now disgraced spin and smear merchants Damian McBride and Derek Draper.  On the Unite side were Charlie Whelan and Andrew  Dodghson.  Kevin Maguire completed the dirty half-dozen. Guido believes that although Collins did not know of the specific intended smears outlined in the January email by McBride to Draper, he did however know of the intention to launch the anonymous attack site.  Nor was he the only person at Labour HQ who was aware of the intention to set-up the “plausibly deniable” site.

On Friday Guido spoke with Dan Thain, who was until recently the Labour Party’s eCampaigns Manager based in Labour’s HQ at 39 Victoria Street, he now works in the London office of Blue State Digital (famous for being Obama’s online people).  He admitted on the record that:

  • He knew in principle about the plan to set-up an anonymous Labour attack blog.
  • He denied knowing about specifics such as the smears or the name of the site.

He indicated that Sue Macmillan,  New Media Campaigns Taskforce Leader at Labour HQ, was also in the know.  She worked closely with Derek Draper.  The obvious question for Collins, Thain and Macmillan to answer is:

Why if it was not the intention to use the Red Rag site for below the belt, spin and smears, was it set up with an anonymous and therefore plausibly deniable structure, outside the Labour Party?

The mere fact that they didn’t want it to have any link back to the party was because it was always intended for it to be used to smear opponents in a way that they would be too ashamed to do openly.  That was implicit in the setting up of the site.  Ray Collins can hardly claim to have no responsibility for the site  just because he didn’t know which particular smears were going to be used.  He still helped plan and facilitate the setting-up of the smear site.

red_rag1

Numerous “blogger’s breakfasts” were organised by Derek Draper at Labour HQ with invitations sent to dozens of bloggers [invitation list for the December 4, 2008 blogger’s breakfast revealed by Guido here].  Attendees of the blogger’s breakfasts organised by Derek Draper held at Labour HQ confirm to Guido that the idea of setting up an attack blog was openly discussed.   In fact at all the meetings the discussions invariably came back to how to take on  and counter  the success of the ConservativeHome, Iain Dale and Guido blogs.  Guido has a detailed picture of discussions held at those breakfasts.

+++ Developing +++

Off for a Picnic

Guido is off for a picnic in the sunshine, when he gets back he will be shining a light into Labour HQ’s links to Red Rag. Will also try and jog the memory of Guido’s drinking buddy, Kevin Maguire.

Will however give co-conspirators something to pass the time. Some months ago on a Wednesday afternoon after PMQs, Guido found himself in the Westminster Arms ordering a pint of Guinness.  As you do.  He turned around to see Kevin Maguire and Damian McBride in the corner.  Maguire spotted Guido – yes those red pants are a bit of a giveaway – Kevin motioned to Damian in Guido’s direction.  Guido returned to his stout and checked his email at the bar.

lovelyA minute later someone jostled his left arm, spilling Guinness.  Guido turned to see a bloated Damian McBride, tenner in hand, looking straight ahead and studiously ignoring him in a definitely-not-apologising manner. So do you punch the Prime Minister’s spin doctor in the face there and then, or given you are a Guinness drinker, take your time over getting revenge?  “Good things come to those who wait.”

+++ Smeargate II +++

More revelations on this blog tomorrow…

+++ Maguire Helped Plan Red Rag+++

Ray Collins

News of the World press release below, full story here:

THE VILE website at the centre of the vicious plot to smear top Tories was set up with the help of the boss of the Labour Party, the News of the World can sensationally reveal today.

A new email shows that Labour’s General Secretary Ray Collins chaired a secret meeting to create the Red Rag website now ensnared in the Smeargate scandal.

The email’s existence links the dirty tricks site to the very TOP of the Labour Party.

And it exposes the LIE, put out by Downing Street, and repeated by government ministers this week, that the smears project was just a minor aberration cooked up by a couple of renegades acting alone—and which would never have seen light of day.

The new email, written by Labour’s then internet campaign chief Derek Draper, PROVES that the meeting took place, reveals WHO was there, WHERE it was held and WHAT was on the agenda. It shows that Collins travelled across Westminster for a summit in the offices of trade union bigwig Charlie Whelan. Whelan, one of Gordon Brown’s closest friends and his former chief spin doctor, was described last night by a Labour insider as the Prime Minister’s “unofficial Mr Fix-It”.

Joining Collins and Whelan at the meeting were the two men whose leaked smear emails later brought the scandal to light: Damian McBride and Draper.

McBride, another of the Prime Minister’s closest aides, was forced to resign last week after it emerged that he and Draper conspired to spread false and sinister stories about Tory leader David Cameron, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and other Tories.

Draper has since been cold-shouldered by the party, too.

Also in the room was the man who was to be the public face of Red Rag, Unite press officer Andrew Dodgshon, as well as political journalist Kevin Maguire, who was there in a private capacity.

News of the meeting, and the presence at it of the Labour Party’s General Secretary, will horrify and appal senior party workers and Labour MPs who have already been disgusted by the smear campaign.

The email reveals the meeting took place on December 1 last year at Unite’s London HQ, on King’s Street, Westminster, seven weeks before McBride sent an explosive email to Draper outlining “stories” for the site.

Last week, after the News of the World’s revelations about the shocking extent of the smears, Collins slammed McBride and Draper, while he avoided mentioning his own role in the scandal.

Collins carefully followed a line taken by Derek Draper, husband of GMTV’s Kate Garraway, and McBride that they acted alone.

Draper claimed: “The idea that it was a big project orchestrated in Downing Street is ridiculous.”

However, our revelations show that Collins knew about the Red Rag site more than four months ago and did NOTHING to stop it—in fact he did the opposite.

Collins also tried to distance himself from Draper last week.

“I want to reiterate that Derek Draper does not hold a position or role with the Labour Party and this will remain the case,” he said.

Yet the General Secretary himself recruited Draper last year to try to set up a unit inside the Labour Party to attack the Tories using the internet.

We can reveal that despite internal opposition Collins granted Draper a pass to Labour Party HQ in Westminster, and even allowed him a Labour Party email account.

Both were quietly rescinded by Collins this week after furious protests from staff following our Smeargate revelations.

red_rag1

The Red Rag site was borne out out of those foundations, and was set up on November 4, 2008, weeks before the secret meeting.

A shocked Labour party insider told us: “It is devastating that Collins was there. It was a meeting called to set up, run and work out how to finance the Red Rag site.

“It’s no coincidence either that it wasn’t held at Labour Party HQ, or that it was at Charlie Whelan’s offices in Unite.

“Whelan is back as Gordon Brown’s unofficial Mr Fix-it, and he’s now so powerful that he’s effectively running the party.

“If anyone in the party was still daft enough to believe the Downing Street line about this being minor, this email finally exposes that lie.” Whelan was copied in to the vile emails between McBride and Draper and his role in the meeting at the Unite HQ raises further questions about how closely the union was involved in the dirty tricks campaign.

He is political director of Unite, which has two million members.

It is now one of the largest donor to the Labour Party, and it’s cash is effectively paying the near-bankrupt party’s wages as it struggles to manage debts topping £16million.

Last night Collins, himself a former assistant general secretary of Unite, admitted he attended the Red Rag website meeting but insisted he did not know about the McBride smears.

He told us: “I have had no knowledge whatsoever of any smears and found the stories and reports of the last week absolutely disgusting.

“I did attend a meeting at the Unite Head Office on December 1 to discuss online digital campaigning and how we could support and encourage left of centre websites and bloggers.

“This meeting was not about scurrilous rumour, personal attacks or smears as I would have been furious that such things could be seen as legitimate tools of political debate.”

Guido said it was strange that Maguire missed the scoop

+++ Steady Eddie Deadie

The former Bank of England governor Eddie George died at the age of 70 today following a long battle with cancer.  Wonder what he would have made of quantitative easing?

+++ LabourHome : Busted Ballot Box at Labour HQ +++

If this is correct it is stunning:

Labourhome has learned that the E&T Ballot Box with the broken seal was in fact being stored in a cupboard at Labour’s Victoria Street HQ at the time.

Furthermore, the ballot papers inside were torn up.

With both an active, high-level, Georgia Gould campaign and an active Unite campaign led by Charlie Whelan, operating against Gould, it will be almost impossible to nail down a likely culprit for this vandalism.

Hat-tip : LabourHome

The Challenge for the Lobby Today

tom_wAndy McSmith in the Indy has compiled a short list of McBride’s smears and their victims.  It is not a complete list, most of the victims listed are Labour MPs.  Shame that journalists didn’t have the courage to name McBride as the source of the smears at the time that they printed them.  If they did, it might have shed some light on the potential truth of those smears at the time.

Guido’s challenge to the fearless members of the press is a simple one.  Show you are not, in the words of Peter Oborne theclient media, check your notebooks and identify the smears passed to you by Tom Watson, the Minister for Mudslinging.  Are you copy-takers or journalists?   Or will you just leave it to Guido once again to do the hard work and dispatch him?

UPDATE : John Rentoul in the Indy has enough self awareness to  realise he is in a self-inflicted Kafkaesque situation. People are starting to hint; Matthew Taylor, the Blairite Downing Street insider turned wonk,  joins Guido in mocking the press;

I have had a few ‘phone calls from Sunday journalists about the McBride affair. ‘Can you tell us more about his operation?’ they say. Which, when you think about it, is a bit like someone saying:

‘me and my mates have for years been having a very intimate relationship with someone you might vaguely know – what was it like?’.

Er…you could start by asking each other

Newspapers writing indignant exposes about the briefing operation of someone upon whom they relied for years for stories! You couldn’t make it up.

Journalists can name the names, they are in their contacts books already.

Sickened Alice Mahon Quits Labour

Alice MahonAlice Mahon, a Halifax MP for 18 years and a left-wing Labour Party member for more than half-a-century, has resigned her membership of the party saying she can no longer stomach how it operates.

In her letter to the Halifax Constituency Labour Party she criticises the Prime Minister: “This Labour Government should hang its head in shame for inflicting this on the British public just as we face the most severe recession any of us have experienced in a lifetime.”

The Smeargate revelations left her “sickened”. According to the Yorkshire Post:

“My stepdaughter Rachel said to me: ‘How could they do that to people like David Cameron and his wife Samantha when they had recently lost their son Ivan? What kind of people think it would be a good idea to smear them?’

“I was sickened by that – that is not the Labour Party that I joined all those years ago… Quite simply I have had it with New Labour.”

Decent Labour versus New Labour…

Friday Caption Competition

Mandy Hoon[…]

+ READ MORE +

Watson : I’m Miserable Now

Tom Watson, the Minister for Mudslinging, is blogging again.

tom_wOn reflection, this week wasn’t the most relaxing of family breaks to Cornwall. And for those that revel in these things, I can say with some certainty, that at times, it

[…]

+ READ MORE +

Whelan : I Have Been Victim of Tory Dirty Tricks

whelanYou have to laugh at Charlie Whelan – the poisonous mudslinger bleating that he is the victim of Tory dirty tricks. It wasn’t Tories who were planning dirty tricks was it?  It was Charlie and his mudslinging […]

+ READ MORE +

+++ Gordon Says Sorry +++

He says he “takes full responsibility”Still no sign of a letter of apology to Iain Dale or Guido yet…[…]

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Janan Ganesh on Labour’s soft left

“Ms Cooper does not believe the previous Labour government was wrong to run a fiscal deficit after 15 years of economic growth. Both she and Mr Burnham think families should be entitled to tax credits for a third child. These views are not mad. They are just a bit too left-wing for Britain. For any serious party, that amounts to the same thing. The soft left is more electable than the hard left but then Mars is more habitable than Neptune: neither planet will host human life anytime soon.”

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