Saturday, 28 July 2018

How the Vote Leave campaign cynically used the Jo Cox killing to their advantage

When the Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in the street by a "Britain First" screaming extreme-right terrorist during the EU referendum campaign, all of the Brexit campaign groups agreed to a three day pause in campaigning as a mark of respect.

On Thursday 26 July 2018 Facebook finally released a massive tranche of Vote Leave dark ads that were run during the EU referendum campaign. The immediate response was shock at the dishonesty of the content, the slick clickbait nature of the adverts, and the complete lack of imprints or information identifying the dark ads as Vote Leave campaign material.

Then people started looking into the time stamps of the dark ads and found that a load of them had been uploaded during the agreed pause in campaigning, meaning Vote Leave were taking advantage of the Jo Cox pause to continue pushing their own Brexit propaganda while the Remain campaigners stopped to pay their respects.

When this information became public the Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings initially denied that the dark ads were run during the pause, and claimed that they were just being uploaded for later.

This excuse crumbled almost immediately with the leak of a conversation between Darren Grimes and the AIQ staffer who was running the dark ad campaign which showed that Grimes' response to the dark ads starting up again at 10pm on the day after the killing was "oh fantastic".

Now it's already been proven that Vote Leave illegally overspent during the EU referendum (for which they've been hit with the maximum possible fine by the Electoral Commission) and that this overspend was due to their campaign of social media dark ads.

Serious questions remain over the legality of the adverts they ran, given the desperately misleading content, and that they contained absolutely no indication that they were EU referendum campaign material at all.

However there's not much prospect of prosecution of their decision to carry on campaigning after agreeing to pause out of respect to Jo Cox, because the agreement between the campaigns didn't take the form of a legally enforceable contract, it was just a matter of integrity and basic human decency.

Vote Leave's decision to carry on secretly campaigning so as to use the Jo Cox pause for their own advantage is particularly cynical given how numerous Brexiteers actually accused Remain campaigners of "politicising the killing" and "using it to their advantage" in the aftermath of the murder.

Now it's absolutely clear that Vote Leave deliberately and cynically used the pause in campaigning to their own advantage, which even a hefty proportion of Leave voters would no doubt find utterly repulsive if they knew about it.

So the big question now is how the mainstream media will cover these revelations. Will they be swept under the carpet so most people don't even know that Vote Leave decided to cynically use the Jo Cox pause to their own advantage, or will this scandal be presented as the outrageously cynical and dishonest behaviour that it was?

My guess is that this decision to take advantage of the Jo Cox murder won't be dominating any headlines, and if it is mentioned at all, buried in the back pages, it will only be down to the sterling work of people like Carole Cadwalladr (one of the few mainstream media journalists worth their salary).

What you can do
Share this article to help spread awareness of the despicable behaviour of the Vote Leave campaign. 
Contact journalists in the mainstream media and ask them to cover the story of how Vote Leave cynically continued campaigning during the Jo Cox pause.
Write to your MP and ask them to take action to prevent the use of social media dark ads in future democratic votes. One way would be to introduce a new law that all campaign adverts (paper or digital) must be registered with the Electoral Commission and clearly marked as campaign literature, with jail time for those who break the rules. 
Take a look at the evidence for yourself. Look at how dishonest and immigration fixated these dark ads were, and try to get your head around the staggering number of people who saw and were influenced by these misleading dark ads in the run up to the EU referendum vote.
Support independent media in their efforts to counter-balance mainstream media bias by setting up small subscriptions to your favourite independent media sites.

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Note: Article amended over a mistaken attribution of the "oh fantastic" comment to Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings, rather than Darren Grimes (who was given £625,000 by Vote Leave to spend on Facebook dark ads).