The electoral reform campaign: who’s who?

The key players to look out for during the campaign.

The electoral reform referendum may not be until May (or September, if the Tory rebels and Labour succeed in delaying it), but both sides of the campaign have already got their key players in place.

The No camp recently announced the appointment of Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the ruthlessly effective Taxpayers' Alliance, as its head. On the Yes side Katie Ghose, the new chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, will be a key figure.

Here's whom to look out for during the campaign (the No side is rather more colourful, as things stand).

The No Campaign

The head

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, has a record as a highly effective and ruthless campaigner. He has already faced accusations of using dirty tricks: it was revealed yesterday that he has registered the Yes2AV.org domain name.

On AV, he has commented: "I am keen that power is shifted from parliament to the people, but the 'Alternative Vote' system would give people less control over the laws which govern their lives. Prescribing the wrong medicine doesn't make patients better, it makes them worse."

The paymaster

Lord (Rodney) Leach, a Conservative life peer and former chairman of the anti-euro Business for Sterling pressure group, has emerged as the key fundraiser for the No side and was responsible for Elliott's appointment. Leach, who helped fund David Cameron's office before he became Tory leader, was installed by No 10 to ensure that the No campaign would avoid personal attacks on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems.

Of Elliott, he said: "What I like about Matthew is that he's not a gun for hire. He's that rare combination of someone who not only believes passionately in what he's fighting for, but is also an extremely successful campaigner. Campaigning against the 'Alternative Vote' system is a natural extension of his fight for greater accountability and transparency in politics."

The organiser

Charlotte Vere, the unsuccessful Tory candidate for Brighton Pavilion at the last election, describes herself as the "national organiser" of the No campaign.

The Yes Campaign

James Graham, campaign manager of Unlock Democracy (which incorporates the famed Charter 88), has pledged that the pro-AV campaign will not be "Lib Dem-led", denying rumours that it will be run out of the party's Cowley Street HQ.

He says: "We are quite conscious [sic] that the campaign isn't perceived to be a Lib Dem campaign. There is an attempt to tar it as that." He is likely to be a key presence at the official launch of the Yes campaign on the weekend of 4 September.

Katie Ghose, whose appointment as the new chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society was announced yesterday, has promised to help lead the campaign "to deliver a historic victory for political reform and for British voters".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.