Electoral Commission Grilled Over Darren Grimes Cock-Up

The Electoral Commission had to face two Parliamentary Select Committees today after their humiliating defeat in court by Darren Grimes last Friday. Craig Mackinlay – who knows Electoral Commission incompetence only too well, took Chief Executive Bob Posner to task over their decision to relentlessly pursue Grimes while failing to fully investigate Remain campaign spending irregularities. Posner mumbles something about following those “strands” and “maybe” fining a couple of groups. They did nothing of the sort

Instead Posner makes clear that the Electoral Commission are still considering appealing against the Darren Grimes judgement despite having already spent half a million of taxpayers’ cash on the case, although Posner points out that part of that was on the Vote Leave aspects of the case. The High Court having previously found that the Electoral Commission caused the problem in the first place by giving Vote Leave incorrect legal advice

It’s worth looking at the specifics of the Grimes case. Guido was in the courtroom:

  • The Commission’s case against Grimes himself was nothing to do with the spending limit issue around Vote Leave. So they went after him on a technicality instead…
  • The Commission’s first charge was that he had not filled a form in correctly to register as an ‘unincorporated association’ rather than an individual. An issue they didn’t flag at all in their first two investigations into Grimes – which found nothing.
  • They then slapped a second offence notice on him for subsequently submitting an “over-complete” spending return. Kafka-esque.
  • The judge found their form itself was highly confusing and that Grimes had filled out the majority correctly, and to the extent he hadn’t it didn’t matter. The dispute centred around a single box…
  • The judge also found that the Commission had essentially constructed their case the wrong way round. In effect they assumed Grimes’s guilt first and then challenged him to prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt.
  • This led them to exclude a large amount of evidence in Grimes’ favour. Precisely the opposite of how the law is meant to work.
  • The judge also ruled that even if they hadn’t been wrong on the offences themselves, the maximum £20,000 fine was still disproportionate. It was vexatious.

The full judgment is yet to be published, but the outcome of the case was clear. The Electoral Commission weren’t just defeated, their whole case against Grimes was thoroughly debunked. Their QC James Eadie didn’t even bother to turn up to hear the judgment. The fact that their apparatchiks are now considering dragging it out and blowing even more taxpayers’ money just to try to save face is beyond belief…

Gisela Stuart Reminds Remain That They Spent Far More Money

Former Vote Leave Chair Gisela Stuart tells Marr: “at every stage [Vote Leave] were rule compliant according to the legal advice we were given at that time” – a point upheld by the High Court last year who found that the Electoral Commission had given Vote Leave incorrect legal advice before the referendum. Not that it has stopped the Electoral Commission from punishing Vote Leave in Kafka-esque fashion for following their own advice…

As Stuart and this handy chart remind, Remain spent over 40% more than Leave did overall – before you even count the £9 million Government leaflet and all the civil service work for Remain. And they still lost…

“Vindictive” ICO Hits Vote Leave With £40,000 Fine For Not Having Data They Agreed to Delete

The state’s war of attrition against Brexit is continuing to grind on with the Information Commissioner’s Office today taking the decision to slap Vote Leave with a monster fine of £40,000. The ICO’s justification for the fine was that Vote Leave had violated data protection laws because were unable to prove that text messages sent to voters had been done with their consent. The reason Vote Leave were unable to prove it was specifically because they deleted their entire database after the vote as agreed with the ICO before the referendum. A truly Kafka-esque perversion of justice…

The ICO’s best practice guidelines say that data controllers should delete data once it is no longer serving the purpose for which is collected, hence why Vote Leave specified in their data policy that they would delete all the data after the referendum. Meanwhile the Remain campaign – now in its third different incarnation as People’s Vote – kept its entire database from the referendum campaign and has continued to pump out messages to its database on an almost daily basis since the referendum. Funnily enough the regulators don’t have a problem with that…

A Vote Leave spokesman slammed the “vindictive” decision from the ICO, saying that it just “shows their desperation to pin something on us after we had rebutted all of their other ludicrous theories”:

“Fewer than 20 people made complaints about the 196,000 text messages we sent during the referendum campaign. This is far lower than the commercial texting campaigns who have previously been fined by the ICO. Vote Leave was operating in a highly political environment, which makes false allegations much more likely. It is therefore highly likely that the tiny number of people who complained to the ICO were doing so for political purposes.

“The ICO took over two years to bring these complaints to our attention, when they could easily have done so in the summer of 2016. Unlike the Stronger In campaign, we deleted all of our data after the referendum as agreed with the ICO, so their decision to prosecute us now feels particularly vindictive.

“Both during and after the referendum, Vote Leave complied with both the letter and spirit of the law. We have exchanged 46 letters with the ICO since the referendum, most of them refuting conspiracy theories peddled by people unhappy with the referendum result. To be fined £40,000 for fewer than 20 complaints which they were aware of over two years ago, shows their desperation to pin something on us after we had rebutted all of their other ludicrous theories.”

Brexiteers who think that Brexit will somehow come out more to their liking after a two-year delay or a second referendum only need to look at the way Brexit campaigners have been relentlessly pursued since the referendum to see how it will play out in reality. It’s now or never for Brexit…

Tusk vs Vote Leave’s “Mincing Machine”

The predictable response from Remainers to Tusk’s hell comments yesterday was naturally to agree with him, while again peddling the myth that Brexit campaigners didn’t have a plan. They did…

While it is correct to say that Vote Leave made the strategic decision not to publish a full-on white paper-style plan to avoid getting it filleted Salmond-style, Vote Leave did nonetheless publish considerable detail on what Brexit should look like*, including leaving the single market, regaining an independent trade policy and immediately guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights unilaterally. Also central to their plan was a three-phase framework for how to approach the negotiations, including multiple warnings against triggering Article 50. Ivan Rogers fans eat your heart out…

One prominent former Leave campaigner has penned a pithy response to Tusk which more or less sums up the UK’s current predicament:

Dear Tusk,
Lucky for you the MPs did every single thing the opposite to what Vote Leave said.
You were celebrating when Number 10 triggered Article 50 without a plan or a clue.
If they’d followed the Vote Leave plan and started making preparations to leave without triggering Article 50, you would have been stuffed.
Negotiating with Vote Leave would have been like running into a mincing machine, they’d have kicked you down the street like they did Cameron and Blair.

Then Gove backstabbed Boris, and the rest is history…

*Not to mention the thousand-page magnum opus Change or Go published by Vote Leave’s predecessor Business for Britain…

Oxford Professor’s Car Crash Attempt to Discredit Referendum Result

The online-only Independent’s “front page” today breathlessly reported that “illegal Facebook spending ‘won 2016 vote for Leave'”. Philip Howard, a professor at the “Oxford Internet Institute” said it was his “professional opinion” that it was “very likely” that “excessive spending by Vote Leave altered the result of the referendum”. Howard is due to put his “evidence” to the High Court tomorrow…

On closer inspection, it appears “very likely” that Howard’s evidence is a load of utter rubbish, with statisticians having a field day tearing apart his numbers on Twitter. Howard’s calculations get off to a good start with his assumption that 80 million people saw Vote Leave Facebook ads during the so-called “period of excess spending”. That’s in a country of 66 million people, with an electorate of 46.5 million. By Howard’s calculation, 172% of the electorate saw Vote Leave’s ads…

Of those 80 million people, Howard then claims to use a “conservative industry estimate” that 10% of people who saw the ads would have clicked on them. Of that 10%, he claims that 10% believe, and then “a further 10% of that number can be expected to do something”. Except in his own calculation, he entirely emits his own final step, claiming that 800,000 people (10% of 10% of his imaginary electorate of 80 million) had their votes swung by the ads in the final week of the referendum, rather than 80,000 as his own model predicts. Leave won by over 1.2 million votes…

Moreover, the source he cites for his “conservative industry estimate” estimate of 10% click-through rate – a book called New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen – says “banner ads on politics topics generally had a 1 percent click-through rate”. The author of this venerable source? A certain Professor Philip Howard…

Even glossing over Howard’s other major errors, including… deep breath… conflating organic Vote Leave post impressions with paid ad impressions, assuming that the entirety of his imaginary electorate uses Facebook, ignoring the fact that Stronger In were also running huge numbers of Facebook ads and that more people made up their minds to vote Remain than Leave in the final week, assuming that everyone who decided to vote Leave after seeing an ad had previously been planning to vote Remain, the maximum number of people whose votes could have been swung – according to his own methodology – is 4,650. There’s wishful thinking, and then there’s pure and utter fantasy…

UPDATE: For any readers looking to enjoy more of Howard’s stellar “research”, Guido can heartily recommend this paper where he defines all Twitter accounts tweeting more than 50 times a day as bots. Although if you do fall into that category yourself, Guido might suggest getting a few other hobbies…

Information Commissioner Crushes Carole’s Conspiracies

Guido readers will be well-versed in Carole Cadwalladr’s various conspiracy theories about how a secret nexus of data companies conspired to rig the Brexit vote. As well as the corrections that would inevitably follow her front page ‘revelations’, buried on page 50 of the next week’s Observer…

In an inconvenient twist for the Orwell Prize-winning journalist, the report out today from the Information Commissioner’s Office has crushed most of her central claims. Terrible when a good story gets undermined by basic facts…

Carole claimed that Leave.EU was working with Cambridge Analytica. The ICO found that there was “no evidence of a working relationship between Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU” beyond “preliminary discussions”:

“[B]oth parties stated that only preliminary discussions took place, and the relationship did not move forward when Leave.EU failed to attain the designation as the official Leave campaign… Based on our enquiries, testimony and interviews, we conclude that this is indeed the case – there is no evidence of a working relationship between CA and Leave.EU proceeding beyond this initial phase.”

Carole claimed that the Canadian data firm, AIQ, who worked with Vote Leave, was effectively the “Canadian branch” of Cambridge Analytica, although she has since retracted this claim. The ICO scotched this one too:

“Whilst there was clearly a close working relationship between the entities and several staff members were known to each other, we have no evidence that AIQ has been anything other than a separate legal entity… ultimately we have concluded that this was a contractual relationship.”

Carole’s whole conspiracy centered around the notion that AIQ and Cambridge Analytica had shared data in the referendum. In fact the ICO found no evidence that either Cambridge Analytica or its parent company SCL Elections were involved in any data analytics work on the referendum at all:

“We found no evidence of unlawful activity in relation to the personal data of UK citizens and AIQ’s work with SCLE. To date, we have no evidence that SCLE and CA were involved in any data analytics work with the EU Referendum campaigns.”

Meanwhile Vote Leave was given a clean bill of health for its data work with AIQ:

“We know that Vote Leave had a commercial relationship with AIQ. In respect of that work, we have not obtained any evidence that Vote Leave transferred or processed personal data outside the UK unlawfully – or that it processed personal data without the consent of data subjects… Our further investigations into AIQ revealed no evidence of the unlawful processing of UK personal data.”

After massively bigging up the report yesterday, Carole has been unusually quiet on Twitter since it landed, mainly complaining that no-one was paying attention to the “MUCH bigger story” (was it being “deliberately buried”?) and even accusing Buzzfeed – of all places – of doing Arron Banks’ “dirty work”Maybe she’s still feeling a little bit sore after *that* article

Remainers were hoping for an explosive report to blow up Brexit. Instead it revealed that it’s the Remain campaign and the Lib Dems who are under investigation for potential data breaches, while Arron Banks’ looming fines are almost entirely for using his Leave.EU mailing list to flog insurance after the referendum, not for activities during the campaign. The only thing the report blew up was Carole’s conspiracy. She was after all, as Isabel Oakeshott famously said, “chasing unicorns”…

UK Will Lose Rebate if it Stays in EU

The EU’s Budget Commissioner has confirmed that Britain would lose its budget rebate in the highly unlikely scenario that the UK stays in the EU. Gunther Oettinger made it clear that the UK would not keep the “mother of all rebates” if it held a second referendum and decided to stay in the EU:

“Even if, in the improbable but pleasant case if the UK were to Remain… the gradual exit from the rebate would still be kept. I think that it is something that is no longer appropriate…”

Spendthrift Eurocrats have had their sights set on the UK’s rebate ever since it was created – losing it would mean over £5 billion more of UK taxpayers’ money going to the EU every year. Vote Leave always insisted that the rebate should be included in the UK’s contributions as it was not a fixed entity and was continuously at risk of being demanded back by the EU. They have been proved right…

Amidst Calls for CEO to Resign, Electoral Commission Appeals High Court Ruling

The Electoral Commission are appealing after their humiliating defeat in the High Court last week. They maintain that the advice they gave regarding the ability of Vote Leave to donate to other campaigns was correct. If they win this appeal then Vote Leave acted properly on their advice, if they lose it confirms they gave dodgy advice during the referendum. Either way this shows up the Electoral Commission to be an utter shambles.

Vote Leave boss Matthew Elliott has called on the Electoral Commission’s CEO Claire Bassett to “at the very least” consider her position:

“Leggatt’s judgement last week would drive a coach and horses through electoral law, so it’s understandable that the Electoral Commission is appealing it. But it also marked a humiliating defeat for the Commission, who were shown to have given duff advice to Vote Leave.

Along with the other Commission shenanigans of recent years, this whole situation raises questions about whether they are fit for purpose. At the very least, Claire Bassett should be considering her position.”

The call for heads to roll at the Electoral Commission is cross party…

High Court Finds Electoral Commission Unfit For Purpose

The High Court has made a remarkable ruling in the long-running legal battle over Vote Leave’s spending in the EU referendum, finding that the Electoral Commission itself issued incorrect advice to Leave campaigners during the referendum.

Their mistake means that Vote Leave and other Leave campaigners have been embroiled in a hugely costly legal battle for two years – solely as a result of erroneous advice given to them by the Electoral Commission in the first place.

Vote Leave are clear that they would not have made donations in the way they did had they not secured explicit written advice from the Electoral Commission that it was legal to do so. Former Vote Leave Chief Executive Matthew Elliott described it as an “Alice in Wonderland” situation:

“We find ourselves in a complete Alice in Wonderland situation. Vote Leave asked for, and received, the Electoral Commission’s advice. We followed that advice. During the judicial review, the Electoral Commission tried to avoid admitting that it had given that advice to us, but we were able to establish that they had – and the judges clearly ruled in the Preliminary Hearing that we had received that advice. Yet we are now told that, by having followed that advice, we broke the law.”

Elliott added that the situation was a “mess of the Electoral Commission’s own making” and that the ruling had thrown electoral law “into total chaos”:

“The Electoral Commission’s defeat in the High Court today has thrown electoral law for future elections and referendums into total chaos. Either the Electoral Commission is wrong or the High Court is wrong.

“Should the Electoral Commission choose not to appeal this judgment, they will be admitting that they gave Vote Leave incorrect advice and they should immediately reconsider the unfair fines they are seeking to impose on us because Vote Leave would not have made the donations that it did had it not been for the Commission’s clear advice.

“This whole situation is a mess of the Electoral Commission’s own making, and their defeat in the High Court today must force a rethink. They now have a chance to rectify their errors. They should do the right thing.”

The law on campaigners working together is notoriously unclear, which is why Vote Leave sought to clarify it with the Electoral Commission in the first place. How can the Electoral Commission go ahead with fining Vote Leave entirely on the basis of an error they made themselves?

The High Court’s judgement describes the Electoral Commission as “unconstructive”, “arbitrary” and lacking “any rational basis” for its actions. They have ruled that the Electoral Commission itself does not understand electoral law. How can the Electoral Commission possibly be fit for purpose if it does not even understand electoral law itself?

Darren Raises in 24 Hours What Shahmir Raised in 100 Days

Carole Cadwalladr’s Vote Leave ‘whistleblower’ Shahmir Sanni (also known as Zoolander) started his own crowdfunder page, despite already having expensive lawyers and mysterious generous powerful donors, on 16 April, more than 100 days ago.

BeLeave Brexit legend and victim of the biased Electoral Commission Darren Grimes started his crowdfunder yesterday, backed by hard-working Guido readers.

In that time you have raised £46,000 for Darren’s case (averaging £32 each), eclipsing the £45,000 Zoolander raised in over three months. On average that’s £18/hr for Remain and £1,917/hr for Leave. Power of the 17.4 million…

Electoral Commission Email Reveals They Refused to Speak to Vote Leave

After finding Vote Leave guilty of breaking electoral law this morning, the Electoral Commission are claiming that officials from the Brexit campaign refused to attend interviews. Yet this email from Louise Edwards, the Tory-hating Electoral Commission boss, to lawyers for the Vote Leave officials says otherwise:

Eh? Which is it? And how on earth can they reasonably find an organisation guilty of breaking the law without hearing their side of the story? Justice – Electoral Commission style…

This was Louise Edwards excuse to Vote Leave boss Dominic Cummings for failing to speak to him, emailed yesterday. Essentially, she is arguing the Electoral Commission only made claims about Vote Leave as a whole so don’t need to speak to the key players involved. Which does not seem to be justice in any sense. Real possibility the Commission could be sued here…

Remain Campaign Used Same Spending Tactics as Vote Leave, But Far Worse

Since this issue is in the spotlight again, Guido brings you a reminder that the Remain campaign did exactly the same thing that Vote Leave is accused of, only far, far worse. In the month before the vote the Remainers set up FIVE new campaigns and funnelled a MILLION pounds into them so they could stay under the spending limit:

  • DDB UK Ltd registered as an independent campaign on 25 May 2016, less than a month before the referendum. DDB UK Ltd received £191,000 in donations.

  • Best For Our Future registered as a permitted participant on 27 May 2016, less than a month before the referendum. It received £424,000 in donations

  • The In Crowd registered on 10 June 2016, less than two weeks before the referendum. It received £76,000 in donations.

  • Virgin Management Ltd registered as a permitted participant on 3 June 2016, less than three weeks before the referendum. It received £210,000 in donations.

  • Wake Up And Vote registered as a permitted participant on 24 May 2016, less than a month before the referendum. It received £100,000 in donations.

The Remain campaign did exactly the same thing as Vote Leave, only with more money and with five new campaigns…

Electoral Commission Ignored Evidence Disproving Central Claims Against Vote Leave

The Electoral Commission is facing difficult questions this morning after it emerged they are to find Vote Leave guilty of breaking electoral law despite refusing to hear evidence that would have disproved the central claims. BeLeave’s Darren Grimes, who was 22 at the time, is expecting to be fined £20,000 for filling in his forms wrongly. The Commission failed to interview a single senior Vote Leave staff member during its investigation, or at any point in the last two years. They heard evidence from the discredited whistleblowers making the allegations, yet didn’t allow Vote Leave figures to defend themselves against the claims, despite multiple attempts from Vote Leave officials to meet the Commission and provide evidence. This is a real breach of natural justice – whatever you think of Brexit and the merits of the case, is it justice if the Electoral Commission find someone guilty of a criminal offence without allowing them to give a defence? 

It gets worse, the Electoral Commission’s failure to discuss any of their accusations with Vote Leave means that many of them are just factually incorrect. The central finding was reached because the Commission wrongly claimed that a bombshell email from Dominic Cummings to donor Anthony Clake proved that Vote Leave were raising donations for BeLeave with the intention of obliging the latter to spend that money on AIQ. They missed evidence from other internal emails that BeLeave had in fact requested money to spend on AIQ weeks before. So the Electoral Commission’s bombshell email… isn’t.

The Commission claims that BeLeave’s messaging was controlled by Vote Leave, yet they again refused to speak to anyone from Vote Leave to challenge that assertion. They even ignored evidence from the whistleblowers themselves that the messaging was in fact controlled by BeLeave. This point just looks nakedly partisan from the Electoral Commission – even Carole Cadwalladr doesn’t make this claim.

There are basic factual errors, the Commission claimed BeLeave was established in May 2016, it was in fact established and was active for many months before. The Commission’s own former retained barrister, Tim Straker QC, has noted that their continual mistakes amount to “an error in law”.

This is all without mentioning the Electoral Commission’s refusal to investigate the wealth of evidence that the Remain campaign colluded on a much greater scale. Guido can understand why Remain campaigners want to do in Vote Leave and overturn Brexit, but this stitch up from the Electoral Commission is objectively not justice…

How Dominic Cummings Cost Taxpayers £20 Billion

Months ago Dominic Cummings was shopping around polling that he had done showing that the Tories could win the next election almost only by conceding the NHS argument and splurging more money on it. Remember Boris going public on the need to spend more money on the NHS at the beginning of the year?[…] Read the rest

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Cummings Threatens Commons Poster Protest

John Bercow has entertained the ridiculous charade of grandstanding Remoaner Damian Collins attempting to compel Vote Leave boss Dominic Cummings to come to his committee, allowing a debate on the great pressing issue of our nation tomorrow. Guido is reliably informed that Cummings is threatening to mount some form of protest from the public gallery.[…] Read the rest

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Ex-Vote Leave Staff Targeted With Dodgy Data Pitch

Former Vote Leave staff have been targeted with a dodgy business proposition promising to make them “serious amounts of money” if they share their campaign secrets. This email has gone to several ex-Vote Leave staffers, who smell a rat:

I have a new proposition, which is completely left field, but we believe will disrupt the traditional advertising TV model, and will disrupt the big advertising agencies as well.

[…] Read the rest

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Brexit Drama Cast List in Full

Channel 4 have today announced a new drama about the referendum starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings. Guido has some suggestions for the rest of the cast…

Rimmer from Red Dwarf as Vote Leave boss Matthew Elliott. He’s already nailed the mannerisms.[…] Read the rest

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UK Contribution to EU is £363 Million-a-Week*

According to the latest official figures from the ONS, the UK contribution to the EU was £18.9 billion in 2016. That is £363.5 million a week, slightly more than was on the side of the Vote Leave bus…

After the rebate is taken into account the net figure becomes £13.9 billion or £267 million a week.[…] Read the rest

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Simon Stevens Embraces £350 Million For NHS

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens used to hype up the risks to the NHS of leaving the EU. He even went on Marr during the referendum to personally condemn Vote Leave’s £350 million a week figure. So Guido welcomes Steven’s conversion to the cause at today’s NHS conference in Birmingham, where he has called on the government to spend the Brexit dividend on the NHS: “Vote Leave for a better funded health service – £350 million a week”.[…] Read the rest

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Momentum Use Vote Leave Actress in Student Debt Video

Momentum last night posted a rushed rebuttal video attempting to limit the damage of Corbyn’s student debt u-turn. An eagle-eyed co-conspirator has noticed they employed the services of the same actress who starred in Vote Leave’s famous campaign video on the NHS back in May 2016.[…] Read the rest

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