As if to demonstrate the utter vacuousness of the spin deployed in rebuttal of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, those likely to find themselves in the eye of the storm when it really kicks off have resorted to the dirtiest of dirty tricks in order to warn off potential whistleblowers and divert attention elsewhere. And in doing so, they are forcing Theresa May to do that thing she enjoys the least - taking decisions.
Dominic Cummings, now engaged in frantic damage limitation ...
Yesterday, I hinted that forthcoming revelations could put the entire Brexit vote in doubt. This was not guesswork: what emerged last weekend about CA and its, shall we say, highly creative interventions in a number of elections around the world was a mere hors d’oeuvres to prepare us for a far more substantial entrée. The Leave campaigns were about to get hit with some serious charges. So the panic button was duly pressed.
... and the PM whose career he might have just ended
Dominic Cummings, who will be known to Zelo Street regulars as the less than totally stable presence behind the @toryeducation Twitter feed, spewed out a huge excuse note masquerading as a blog post. Here, he makes the opening pitch “This is part of a long-running attempt by the Observer to claim that 1) VL was involved with Cambridge Analytica (CA) in a global conspiracy involving a nine-month long fight for the designation as the official campaign, covered intensely by the media, that was ‘really’ the most elaborate cover story since the D-Day deception operation, and 2) VL acted illegally in making donations to BeLeave (BL) and other campaign groups”.
The Guardian and Observer are held to be barking up the wrong tree: “Many powerful people, and journalists at the Guardian/Observer, got a horrible shock on the night of 23 June 2016. Rather than face reality many of them have created a fantasy and sold it hard. In doing this they are, ironically, mirroring those they say they hate”.
And those papers are then imbued with a power they do not possess: “Up against tough competition, the whole story is the most loony accusation I’ve ever faced in 20 years in politics. In normal times, such a loony story would get no play but these aren’t normal times. A powerful set of people will do anything to try to shift public opinion in order that they can overturn the referendum” [mental health smear: check!].
Cummings is projecting, deflecting, dismissing, throwing out false trails, and sneering at those who are slowly but surely nailing down the whole rotten mess. “What about CC and her motives? Cadwalladr is a passionate supporter of Remain”. There is also deprecating reference to “Jolyon the lawyer” (Jolyon Maugham QC, that is).
He claimed the opposition didn’t play fair, making one claim he might have difficulty standing up: “the Observer has persecuted the young student, Darren Grimes, who set up BeLeave. They have had no compunction about making his life miserable, undermining his job prospects and so on, in order to try to pressure him into saying something they can use as part of their campaign against VL”. And then comes the really nasty bit.
Shahmir Sanni is the latest whistleblower to come forward. He volunteered for Vote Leave in the run-up to the referendum. Cummings grudgingly concedes that he met him: “Shahmir was a young graduate who volunteered to help VL and BL. He didn’t live in London, so only came into VL’s offices (as many volunteers who helped other campaigns did) occasionally. I have a vague memory I spoke to him in a corridor and may have been introduced”. Then he suggests that Shahmir has been dishonest.
“In 2016, Shahmir told VL’s director of compliance, who took detailed contemporaneous notes, that VL behaved legally and properly and Shahmir gave an account of what happened that is completely different to what he is now saying”.
So far, so routine in the world of spin and rebuttal. But then Cummings, almost as an afterthought, although it most certainly wasn’t, brings in someone called Stephen Parkinson: “I didn’t know anything about the personal relationships between Wylie/Shahmir/SP until a few days ago but here is Stephen Parkinson’s (SP) statement”.
Cummings has suddenly been made aware of a relationship that he had no knowledge of back in 2016. Why should that be relevant now, and why was it only “a few days ago” when anyone made him aware of it? Ah well. When you see what Parkinson is alleging, you realise that this is not an accident. This is the lowest and most deliberate smear.
Here is the opening of Stephen Parkinson’s statement. “I was not introduced to Shahmir Sanni or Darren Grimes by Chris Wylie as he is claiming, but by a mutual friend from university. Shahmir became an occasional volunteer for Vote Leave and other leave campaigns, and we began a personal relationship. We subsequently dated for 18 months, splitting up - I thought amicably - in September 2017”.
He just outed Shahmir Sanni, whose mother and other family members were not aware of his sexuality. What is more, Parkinson is now political secretary to Theresa May, and it is clear from statements made since Cummings went public that Downing Street is involved.
For some value of "attack" there, Sam
Here is some of the statement from Bindmans LLP: “10 Downing Street tonight confirmed an official statement to the media on behalf of Stephen Parkinson, Political Secretary to the Prime Minister, disclosing my client’s sexuality publicly. We believe this is the first time a Downing Street official statement has been used to out someone”.
There is more. “My client is now having to come out to his mother and family tonight, and members of his family in Pakistan are being forced to take urgent protective measures in order to ensure their safety”. That’s how vicious and deliberate this was.
Shahmir Sanni has underscored this aspect of his outing: “I never imagined that he, with the help of Number 10, would choose to tell the world I am gay, in a last desperate attempt to scare me … he knew the danger it would cause, and that’s why he did it”.
Did anyone doubt the seriousness of the story which first came to widespread public view last weekend? Was anyone in any doubt as to how dirty the participants were willing to play in order to muddy the waters and dissuade those pursuing them? Now you know.
What you also know is that Theresa May must, at the very least, sack Stephen Parkinson, and do so quickly. To hesitate will be to damage her premiership, perhaps fatally.
The Leave campaigns have been caught like rabbits in the headlights. But they know enough skunks to make a nasty stink around their pursuers. More to come.