Best for Britain, privately described by Tony Blair as “the amateurs” in the anti-Brexit campaign, were this week the victims of the thing that many in public life fear most: a front page attack from the Daily Mail.
The difference here, though seems to be that Best for Britain were deliberately seeking to be attacked. How else, for instance, did they have a fundraising page ready at 8am that claimed the Mail were seeking to shut them up?
Best for Britain were established by Alan Milburn in early 2017 as an effort to manufacture a grassroots campaign and was, at the time, very firmly based on the idea that it didn’t want to use politicians. Massively funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the group has essentially gone through 100% staff turnover – the only permanent fixture being CEO Eloise Todd who has chopped and changed her staff as rapidly as she has her strategy.
The original MP-free strategy first evolved into “the Momentum of anti-Brexit” and has now become a bog-standard politician-focused campaign with a big focus on Westminster. The recruitment of Paul Butters as their communications director – previously he ran media for Lib Dem leader Tim Farron – means they can call on the services of some Lib Dems and a few Labour MPs.
Some of their vast war chest is being spent, but not particularly well. A nationwide advertising campaign last month was briefed as the first stage in a concerted drive to persuade voters in the North of England that Brexit needed to be stopped, but there has been no follow-up as yet, and nor has their been any sign that the posters had any real cut through.
The group prides themselves on the purity of their anti-Brexit message. So pure, indeed, that they are still refusing to engage with Labour MPs and peers who are trying to get Britain to stay in the Single Market. Yet at the same time Best for Britain have found themselves trailing in behind the “People’s Vote” campaign based at Millbank Tower – a campaign they flatly refused to join but whose slogans they now repeat across their own messaging. In the style that leads many to compare them to Trotskyist groups, they have gone out of their way, though, to emphasise that their people’s vote will be a different, purer, one from that sought by everybody else.
The reason for that seems to be that appealing to “the base” – the sort of people who prefer to refer to the June 2016 referendum as “advisory”, say it was bought by Kremlin-backed cheating or that, in any case, all Leave voters will be dead if we wait long enough – is a much better way of getting money to come in than telling them that maybe the Remain side needs to ask itself why it lost and what can be done about it.
The one thing Best for Britain have excelled at is raising money. Todd is obsessed by crowdfunding and seeks to use any and every opportunity to get the money in. Her biggest break came when the Daily Telegraph ran a nasty campaign that focused on the fact Soros was not British. The Telegraph didn’t quite fall into the same gutter as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but they came close, and lots of people rushed to donate.
This week, though, seems to be different. Best for Britain produced a presentation that looks like a classic “designed to be leaked” document. The extracts published by the Mail suggest it was filled with boasts and plans that are superficially impressive – like the idea they were going to get Unite to change their policy on Brexit – but which ultimately beggar belief. And, surprise, surprise it did indeed find its way into the hands of a newspaper known for its splenetic hatred of anyone who dares question whether Brexit is the right choice for the country.
The glee with which Best for Britain embraced the Mail’s attack was impossible to ignore. By the time most of Britain had woken up on Thursday they already had their crowdfunder up and running and throughout the day they mass mailed their supporters.
All this happened on the very eve of the moment the EU’s new GDPR data protection laws – which were likely to slash Best for Britain’s reach – came into force. Another happy coincidence.