When the lawyers set the letters flying over straightforward investigative journalism, it is the one clear and true sign that whoever is on their receiving end is getting a little too close with their investigations. So it was when Carole Cadwalladr’s probing research into links between two supposedly independent campaigns for Britain to leave the EU prompted a letter from a law firm called Squire, Patton and Boggs.
Look who's here
The letter has had no effect on the latest product of Ms Cadwalladr’s investigation, which has been published by the Observer today. But it does show that someone, somewhere, may be getting nervous about the slow but sure joining up of the dots. So let me point up some of the key names - and suggest a few more which may be of interest.
The article mentions those we knew about: Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, Dominic Cummings, and of course businessman Robert Mercer. But this time it pitches one important addition: “It was the general secretary of Ukip, a British lawyer called Matthew Richardson, who effected Leave.eu’s introduction to Cambridge Analytica”.
By bringing in Richardson, who apparently works for the Mercers among others, Ms Cadwalladr inserts another key piece in the jigsaw - and also guarantees the attention of lawyers: Richardson has a reputation for being highly litigious. But why he is key to all of this is that this links directly to not just UKIP, but the Tory Party. And that link is via the now-dormant Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF).
A feature in Slate had already noted the presence of a charitable organisation called the Government Accountability Institute, which paid significant sums to Steve Bannon, and two other Breitbart contributors. Slate tells “The institute was Bannon’s brainchild”.
There is more: “the institute has been closely tied through personnel and donations to a network of nonprofit organizations that have pushed a conservative agenda … The institute received nearly $4 million in donations between 2012 and 2014 from two conservative charities - Donors Trust and the Mercer Family Foundation”.
Mercer again. According to the WaPo, “The institute’s board of directors included Rebekah Mercer”. She is Robert Mercer’s daughter. And, wait for it, “Institute director Ron Robinson is the longtime president of Young America’s Foundation”. This is where it begins to get interesting: the YAF inspired the YBF and its main man Donal Blaney.
The YBF was intimately involved in the Tory Party bullying scandal, one reason being that the group has in the past made itself indispensable to the Tories by being the one body that could provide and train significant numbers of young activists. By doing so, its more ideologically pure conservatism - virulently anti-EU, pro-US right wing, pro-guns, and very much pro-small state - was gradually injected into the Tories’ body politic.
Richardson was an alumnus of the YBF. Also from that circle, and joining UKIP at around the same time, was Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam, former bag carrier to Farage and present in the group photo taken in the golden lift at the Trump Tower.
Also an alumnus of the YBF, and in receipt of their Golden Dolphin award - until he became too hot to handle even for the Tories - was Mark Clarke, another key name in the Tory bullying saga. Bring in the YAF and YBF and a lot more names come into play.
The YBF has got its alumni into Government and the whole range of media organisations - lobby groups, the press, PR firms. One key part of its training agenda is media training: the use of the soundbite-perfect pundit to leverage the right-wing presence.
And it also got some of those alumni into the Leave campaign. This is not to suggest that all of those organisations mentioned are part of some vast conspiracy, but to show the reach of The New Conservatism, how it links in to those actors in the Leave campaign, and through to the Trump Gang and those bent on shoring it up.
Carole Cadwalladr has identified the tip of a very large iceberg. As with all such entities, the part below the surface is infinitely more interesting. Her article talks about following the data: but as ever, one should also follow the money.