The details about Mr Banks’ apparent deception of Parliament along with the opening of a police investigation mark a new stage in the misery of Brexit, but not really one we could not have anticipated. It is surely right to ask whether, if the Leave campaign was funded with dodgy money, it is time to call for another properly organised referendum. This would not be a second referendum or even a referendum about the preferred exit details, but rather an entirely new process as the previous efforts are rendered null and void by potentially criminal activity.
We could run the same question again, and see what happens this time. There is now good reason to rerun, and more than that, we now have enough evidence to know what both “Leave” and “remain” might mean in practical terms. Somehow, I suspect the result would no longer be in favour of Leaving. But if “Leave” is so confident it is right,(Farage says “Leave would win by a much bigger margin”) it should be prepared to be tested again, when the competition can be properly monitoring and judged to be fair.
Indeed, before Banks, the Electoral Commission had already castigated the Leave campaign. It found that ‘Vote Leave’ officials were guilty of overspending £449,079.34. A criminal offence. More than that, the Facebook fiasco during the Referendum debate still threatens a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner. To cap it all, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on ‘Fake News’ concluded Russia has engaged in ‘unconventional warfare’. So there are three strikes and all pointing to wrongdoing to secure a Leave vote.
When MPs and Councillors are found guilty of electoral fraud, they are suspended and in the case of Bob Spink, for instance, given a prison sentence (admittedly suspended). In the case of the Leave campaign, no real action is taken.
This is what happens as a rule: four people were jailed and a fifth person was given a suspended prison sentence for electoral fraud after a local by-election in Maybury and Sheerwater in Surrey in 2012: Shaukat Ali, Parveen Akhtar, Shamraiz Ali, Sobia Ali-Akhtar and Abid Hussain, from New Haw, were charged over claims that postal votes were being fraudulently submitted. They were all convicted of conspiracy to defraud at Reading Crown Court. Shaukat Ali was jailed for 15 months, Parveen Akhtar and Sobia Ali-Akhtar were both jailed for nine months, and Shamraiz Ali was jailed for six months. Abid Hussain was given a six-month prison term suspended for 18 months.
In other words, in normal cases of Electoral fraud, there are consequences for the people who tried to benefit from criminal activity. The electoral result that was skewed by their malpractice is voided, the people involved punished and the election run again.
Not so with Brexit. Not so for those involved in damaging the integrity of the Leave Campaign.
One might argue, of course, that there were only a few “bad boys of Brexit”…
But so far, nothing is emerging about naughty Remainers. Their campaign, which was almost successful was not dogged by suspicions of outside interference, the abuse of facebook, or proven overspending. Now, finally, at the 11th hour, the Banks’ stuff emerges.
Now is the time to act.
Today the Observer ran an article exposing what seem to be dodgy dealings in the Banks’ empire. Allegedly, Eldon Insurance employees were made to work on the Leave campaign, some against their will. Together with the racism that invaded the campaign, some of it apparently printed by Rock services, and much of it informed by the darker forces allied with UKIP, the questions surrounding Mr Banks at least demand a proper debate before it is too late and we are fully committed to Europe in the half-way house peddled by Mrs May’s Chequers’ agreement.
As for Banks’ performance on Andrew Marr, well- the question was asked: “Where did the 8m come from?” and the answers that emerged were a mixture of obfuscation, aggression and arrogance that had Marr floored (“this is what you do, you smear other people” was what Marr was left to observe).
But Banks says he would have voted remain if he had known what a Leave vote might mean. This from the man who is alleged to have bullied his staff into working for the Leave campaign. If there was another vote today, in other words, the leading Leave campaigner would be voting to remain. That beggars belief!
Banks is a great puzzle. A former vacuum machine salesman, he amassed a fortune quite suddenly and then bankrolled UKIP. His CV needs a good deal of explaining- he may or may not have worked for Norwich Union or Warren Buffett and he may have made £100 million out of his sale of Brightside, though records suggest the figure was closer to £22. His mother-in -law, Olga Paderina, says today that he has done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, a cloud hangs over him.
If Banks is dodgy, and it remains to be seen- any trial will be too late to repair the damage he has done.
The risks of Brexit alone, with or without Banks, as they have emerged, might make it expedient to hold another public vote.
In any other situation we would have called time. Instead, we persist with a charade that we are doing “democracy”. We are not even doing that.
There are a number of ways to analyse the events of 23rd June 2016. the Brexiteers might cite the 263 that voted to leave in contrast to the 119 that voted decisively to remain. That would be a 68.85% majority vote. But this is never the figure put forward. Instead, people concentrate on the overall percentage of voters throughout the kingdom who voted to leave. That is just 17,410,742 votes.
In other words, with 51.89% voting leave out of a 72.21% turnout, that is not even a 50% majority. This is hardly decisive.
My friends in the Leave group, particularly from UKIP, tell me that should the Leave vote be ignored, there will be riots in the streets. I suppose that is a threat and we should not give in to that sort of thing. Maybe they will turn on Aaron Banks now he has said he would vote to Remain.
But much more than all that, the possibility that there was major wrong-doing behind the campaign makes the strongest case for pulling the plug now. We cannot do so after March. Stronger than expedience, stronger even than resisting bullies who threaten disorder is we do not do what they want. No. If we do nothing about electoral mal-practice, we condone it. That means the integrity of our political system is under threat.
I was horrified by the story that Andrew Marr had been abused in the Daily Mail. Quentin Letts should have known better and it should not have been down to Roy Greenslade to get him to apologise, but that is the world we are living in. We are back to the same discussion we have had before (Jonathan Ross, for instance)- when is a joke no longer funny?
There have been many times when I have drawn something I later decided was too direct or simply did not work. Trying to be topical and humorous can often get us all into trouble, but there are some lines we should never cross. Racism is of course an absolute, but I think also we have to salute those people who are brave enough to stand up in public – Marr is particularly brave, to come back to prime time TV after suffering a stroke. He shows that this is possible. But that wider thought about public life is what makes me pause to admire even those public figures with whom I disagree- I am delighted Sadiq Khan, for example is now the first Muslim Mayor of London: it sends out a tremendous message, though I disapprove of many things Khan and his supporters have said and done (as I hope is clear from previous blogs). Nigel Farage might espouse views I dislike and behave in an appalling way (he still owes me a letter incidentally) but he must be saluted as one of the three great orators in the UK today (the other two are Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson).
Here is the best Farage speech: brilliant, cruel, and probably not something I would say (I balk at the reference to Belgium, for instance) but certainly not poking fun at someone with a disability:
Jeremy Corbyn may not be a man who leads from the front, but I recall on the Andrew Marr show, what a convincing and positive performance he gave. I salute that too, while at the same time bemoaning his inability to control his own cabinet and form a decisive and genuinely loyal opposition. In the absence of real political leadership, we in the conservative party have begun to form our own loyal opposition on our own backbenches! Not good for the Conservatives, not good for Labour and certainly not good for our wider parliamentary democracy.
But praise where praise is due, and frankly, I cannot find a word to say against Andrew Marr. It is fairly shameful that the Daily Mail peddles this sort of filth.