THIS week Labour’s leadership bust a gut to get their MPs to support an amendment to a motion giving MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final deal on the EU.
Stop Brexit groups said the amendment was vital — although Labour supported the amendment as a way of Parliament controlling, not stopping, Brexit.
Labour MPs worked so hard to back the amendment that Bradford MP Naz Shah even voted in a wheelchair, while on medication.
Meanwhile the Tory “rebels” who were supposed to back this amendment mostly melted away.
And in the same week, anti-Brexit campaigners vigorously attacked Labour, while sucking up to the Tories.
What’s going on? Why are these small, but noisy and well-funded, anti-Brexit groups so keen to attack Labour, while giving the Tories — the actual government party pushing through the “hard Brexit” they claim to dislike — such an easy ride?
A close look at the groups shows they are heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists, New Labour obsessives, Lib Dems and even Tory funders.
Their dislike of Labour’s left turn seems to be much greater than their love for the EU, and it keeps spilling out.
Take Our Future Our Choice (OFOC), a “youth campaign to stop Brexit.” It claimed Tory MP Dominic Grieve was a “legend” and posed for grinning pictures with Justine Greening, thanking the Tory MP for her anti-Brexit stand.
But this week OFOC also hired billboard trucks to drive around the constituencies of four Labour shadow cabinet members, with anti-Labour messages.
The billboard attacking John McDonnell had a picture of him sticking out of Jacob Rees Mogg’s pocket. It doesn’t make much sense, but does imitate a Tory smear poster from the 2015 election showing Ed Miliband sticking out of Alex Salmond’s pocket.
OFOC praised the “rebel” Tories like Grieve and Greening, who in the end didn’t rebel. It attacked Labour, who did back the “rebel” amendment. Why the bias ?
Looking at OFOC’s origin, it has close links to the world of lobbying. OFOC was founded by 43 -year-old Felix Marquardt, an international lobbyist and something of a “media personality” in France who now lives in London.
Despite his age, Marquardt has a history of founding short-lived “youth” campaigns, often without many young people participating.
But Marquardt’s other business is corporate lobbying. His company, Marquardt & Marquardt is a “high-end consultancy” that “specialised in international influence and communications,” which “assists governments, corporations, organisations and individuals in raising their profile and promoting their stakes and interests” in “lobbying and public affairs,” approaching “key officials” as well as running “media relations.” Its slogan is “beyond influence.”
Marquardt’s lobbying firm specialised in events on at Davos, the conference of the super-rich. He put on events for the authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, and had French oil giant Total as a client.
Marquardt’s publicity says that he has “advised several heads of state, including most recently French President Emmanuel Macron.”
Macron — the firmest opponent of France’s left and trade unions — is an “inspiration” for OFOC’s younger members as well as their middle aged founder.
Marquardt left OFOC earlier this year, but as it was founded by a corporate lobbyist with a taste for flashy media stunts, is it a surprise OFOC ended up running an anti-Labour, paid-for stunt like the poster vans themselves ?
OFOC’s spokesman told me its current leadership made their own decisions and raised the bulk of their money through their own crowdfunding — with any other support also coming through crowdfunded sources.
He said OFOC might sometimes make mistakes but they were working hard to mobilise young people.
OFOC also gets support from bigger anti-Brexit organisations. It says it is “powered” by two bigger groups, Best for Britain and Open Britain.
It gets free office space, funds and advice from them — particularly Open Britain. This puts OFOC in a milieu stuffed with more corporate executives and disgruntled New Labour types.
Best for Britain is run by former New Labour minister Lord Malloch Brown. The Best for Britain board includes private equity investor Stephen Peel, who also funds the group.
Peel was an out-and-out Tory. In 2008 Peel gave the Tories £50,000 to help fund their fight against Gordon Brown. Peel has jumped from Tory to New Labour, giving Blairite pressure group Progress £10,000 this year. Peter Norris, the Chairman of Virgin Group, is also on the Best for Britain board.
Open Britain is Peter Mandelson’s group. It is stuffed with New Labour people who hate Labour’s current leadership and would do anything to bring it down.
Alongside Mandelson, Open Britain’s directors include Will Straw, son of Blair minister and Iraq war enthusiast Jack Straw, and Joe Carberry, who used to be a New Labour adviser.
Carberry is now the head of PR for Deliveroo, the exploitative food delivery firm that won’t give its largely young workforce proper rights.
Open Britain also has big Lib Dem funders, who obviously don’t like Labour. Richard Reed is on the board. He became a multimillionaire by selling his Innocent smooth drinks firm to Coca Cola.
Reed has given the Lib Dems £57,000. He hasn’t given to Labour, but did give Chuka Umunna £7,500 in 2016, widely seen as money for Chuka’s abortive Labour leadership bid.
Reed was named as a backer of Project One Movement, a stalled attempt to launch a new, £50 million funded anti-Labour Thrid Party founded by various multimillionaires.
James McGrory is another Lib Dem on the Open Britain board. He was Nick Clegg’s chief spin doctor from 2013-5, during the Tory- Lib Dem coalition.
Former BT chairman Sir Michael Rake also sits on the Open Britain board. He is a minor Lib Dem donor. Roland Rudd, the corporate lobbyist who runs city PR firm Finsbury, also sits on the board. He is brother of Amber Rudd, though not a Tory donor.
The main Remain groups are a mix of New Labour and Lib Dem leftovers, who think they know about “spin,” but I don’t think they know how to organise mass campaigns.
They seem happier attacking Corbyn’s Labour with phoney, paid-for PR campaigns than attacking the actual government carrying out Brexit.
As a result, I doubt they will swing much opinion on Brexit, but may chip away at Labour, which for some participants may be the main point.
Solomon Hughes writes every Friday in the Morning Star. Follow him on Twitter @SolHughesWriter.
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