Max Clifford is dead. His spirit, though, lives on as desperate hacks use his dubious methods to engage in brazen damage limitation, to enact spoilers, nullify or even damage the product of true investigative journalism. Some are adept at channelling the Clifford method; others less so. And one who is not at all good at doing a Clifford is mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott, as today’s papers demonstrate.
On the front page of both the Observer, and the Murdoch Sunday Times, is news that leave campaign backer Arron Banks had rather more extensive contact with those representing the Russian Government than he had previously claimed. The ST’s Tim Shipman has claimed an “exclusive” for his team. But the truth is that Shippers did not have to so much as leave his desk to take delivery of this particular shipment.
Key to this is Ms Oakeshott, who, let us not forget, appeared on the paper review on The Andy Marr Show™ and shouted down the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr on the subject of improper behaviour around the EU referendum. What Ms Oakeshott knew then was that she was sitting on tens of thousands of emails which showed that there had indeed been improper behaviour around the 2016 referendum.
In fact, Isabel Oakeshott had had those emails since 2016: her access came as part of her “editing” (for which read: ghostwriting) The Bad Boys Of Brexit, about, yes, Arron Banks and his pals. And it gets worse: it is my understanding that Ms Oakeshott had hoped to keep the Banks email trove under wraps until after Britain had left the EU.
What changed the game was that the Banks emails were obtained (don’t ask) by Peter Jukes of Byline Media last week, and subsequently shared with Ms Cadwalladr. Given the amount of information they contain, the proposed splash in the Observer could not go into too much detail. But the target of the story had to be informed.
Arron Banks was duly challenged, and informed that the Observer intended to publish, at which point a number of most interesting developments took place.
Firstly, Banks decided that he and Andy Wigmore would not be giving evidence to the DCMS Committee, claiming he was the object of a “witch-hunt” (Banks has since reversed his decision).
Secondly, my information is that Isabel Oakeshott was alerted (how? Draw your own conclusions) and duly ran to the first sympathetic news outlet she could find, that being the Sunday Times, to arrange a Clifford-style damage limitation exercise.
Thirdly, Ms Oakeshott then attempted to de-legitimise the Observer scoop by claiming, in an act of shameless dishonesty, that the emails had been hacked, which beats her previous claim that Ms Cadwalladr was “chasing unicorns”.
Thus the Clifford modus operandi was followed, and hence the apparently competing stories that have appeared this morning. And there is more.
When Isabel Oakeshott claims “It was always my intention to publish this information”, she means at a time which would be politically convenient to her and her cause. Moreover, her claim “Had voters known about the links between Banks and Russia, I am certain they would still have made the same decision” is speculative in the extreme. In the final analysis, it is not down to what she thinks. It may, however, be down to what the Electoral Commission and other bodies decide, having considered the evidence.
What is also clear from putting the Observer and Sunday Times accounts side by side is that the latter is indeed engaging in damage limitation. For the ST, Banks “only” met with the Russians on two more occasions, other than the one to which he had previously admitted. For the Observer, “multiple occasions” suggests rather more than two meetings.
And over and above the claims and counter-claims is the news that more revelations are on the way: what the Observer ran today is only their first instalment. Also, there will be more information imparted to the DCMS Committee later this week.
On top of that, it is disappointing to see the BBC apparently failing to do its research on the genesis of this story. Today’s Andy Marr Show™ paper review had the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis describing the Observer getting hold of the Banks emails as “Journalistic skullduggery”. She was not challenged by the host.
To that, I will put it directly: Zelo Street had the right story - that Jukes and Ms Cadwalladr had the emails, obtained them legitimately, and the ST was running a spoiling operation at the behest of its former employee Ms Oakeshott - last night. If the BBC, and more of what Andrew Neil laughably called “The commentators that count”, can’t have the same story before them twelve hours later, they have a problem. A serious problem.
Isabel Oakeshott has tried to spin herself and Arron Banks out of a hole. As we will see very soon, she has succeeded only in digging them both rather deeper.
The Unicorn has escaped from Ms Oakeshott’s attic. Now it’s going to shit all over her.