A Sky News report identifying three senior Labour Party whips as the Blairite “choreographers” of Labour opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was inexplicably self-censored on Monday. But the censorship comes as little surprise given Sky News’ longstanding connections to a powerful PR firm tied to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The firm, Portland Communications, is not only directly connected to the Labour coup plotters, but had anticipated a Shadow Cabinet “mass resignation” contingency plan to oust Corbyn at least six months ago – long before the EU referendum results.
Five paragraphs identifying the Blairite ringleaders of the coup were deleted from a Sky News report minutes after being quoted in an investigation by The Canary.
The Canary reported that the individuals identified were part of a wider network of Blairite elites affiliated to the Fabian Society, who have seen Jeremy Corbyn’s landside victory in Labour leadership elections as a direct threat to the New Labour ‘old guard’ in the party.
On Tuesday afternoon, Labour Party MPs passed a 172-40 vote of no confidence against Corbyn’s leadership of the party. Corbyn refused to resign on grounds that doing so would be unconstitutional, and that he would “not betray” the Labour members who voted for him.
While many of the MPs who have risen against Corbyn’s leadership are not themselves Blairite, The Canary’s investigation on Monday revealed that the core instigators of the mutiny are part of a pro-Blair ‘old guard’, who have carefully orchestrated the party’s uprising against Corbyn.
Yet shortly after the publication of our story, including passages quoted from Sky News identifying core instigators of the mass resignations, Sky News updated its report with a new version of the article, in which those passages were removed.
The earlier version of the Sky News report, which has now been completely scrubbed from all published versions available online, suggested that the sudden uprising was not spontaneous, but carefully planned.
The report quoted Sky News political correspondent Sophy Ridge accusing one of Corbyn’s own whips, Conor McGinn MP, of coordinating the resignations to “try to cause maximum impact”:
Meanwhile, the party’s leaders in the Lords – Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour leader in the Lords, and Lord Bassam, the chief whip – are likely to boycott shadow cabinet meetings while Mr Corbyn remains, a spokesman for the House of Lords said.
Former shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, who resigned on Sunday, insisted the resignations were not a ‘planned coup’ against Mr Corbyn, but a reaction to the ‘seismic’ events which have shaken Westminster in recent days.
But Sky’s Senior Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge said she understood that the man choreographing the resignations is Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North.
She said: ‘He’s ringing shadow cabinet members and ministers, organising the timings and co-ordinating the resignations to try to cause maximum impact.
‘This is significant because he’s one of Jeremy Corbyn’s Whips – tasked with ensuring party discipline.’
UPDATE: (12.18pm, 29 July 2016) As of Tuesday evening, the earlier version of the article could still be viewed via Google’s cache feature here. However, since the publication of this article on Wednesday morning, the paragraphs in question have also been scrubbed from the Google cache.
The Canary’s investigation quoting the Sky News report was published on Monday at 6pm. In less than twenty minutes – by 6.19pm – Sky News had scrubbed these five paragraphs entirely from its report.
Below are images from Google Search showing that the original paragraphs had been captured by search engines earlier in the day, before Sky News decided to delete them from all published versions of the article across the web:
Coordinated Blairite uprising
The Canary confirmed on Monday that Labour MP Conor McGinn, who describes himself as a pro-interventionist admirer of Tony Blair, is connected to a wider network of Labour Party Blairites.
Among them is Marcus Alexander Roberts – Ed Miliband’s campaign field director and later Sadiq Khan’s campaign manager, who worked with McGinn at the Fabian Society. Roberts in turn is a co-director with Will Straw on the anti-Corbyn blog, Left Foot Forward.
Straw, the son of Blair’s former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, ran the failed cross-party Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. He publicly demanded Corbyn’s resignation on Monday afternoon.
Straw’s colleague, Marcus Roberts, runs Zentrum Consulting Ltd., a political lobbying firm that was hired under the direction of former Blair minister Peter Hain to ‘re-found’ the Labour Party.
Roberts involvement in this Blairite ‘re-founding’ process began precisely during his role as Deputy General Secretary at the Fabian Society, during which he worked with Conor McGinn while the latter was Vice Chair of Young Fabians.
Corbyn’s Blairite whips turn on him
The censored Sky News passages confirm that Conor McGinn worked closely with Hilary Benn, Corbyn’s now resigned Shadow Foreign Secretary, in coordinating the sudden spate of resignations.
Benn, a supporter of the disastrous 2003 Iraq War, was Secretary of International Development under Tony Blair.
In addition to McGinn, the deleted Sky News paragraphs reveal that two of Corbyn’s other most senior whips had also been involved the coordinated mutiny: Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon, who as of May 2015 has been Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords; and Lord Steve Bassam, Jeremy Corbyn’s chief whip.
In one now-censored sentence, Sky News reported that Baroness Smith and Lord Bassam “are likely to boycott shadow cabinet meetings while Mr Corbyn remains.”
Both peers have direct ties to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown.
Baroness Smith served under Blair as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office from 2002 to 2006, and then at the Department for Communities and Local Government, before taking up various positions under Prime Minster Gordon Brown.
Before also serving under Brown, Lord Bassam was appointed by Blair as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office in 1999, then served in several other positions including as Government spokesperson for the Home Office until 2008.
Baroness Smith has close ties with the Fabian Society where Marcus Roberts and Conor McGinn previously held senior leadership positions, including working as a mentor with the Fabian Women’s Network Mentorship Scheme.
Sky News – no comment
Multiple requests to Sky News to comment on the news organisation’s self-censorship of its own reporting on the Labour coup received no response.
The Canary contacted Lucy Ellison, Jim Cockin, Stephanie Jones and Francoise Cairns from Sky New’s PR team, as well as the journalists who would have been directly familiar with the editorial process around the report in question: Sky News’ Political Editor Faisal Islam and Senior Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge whose reporting was expunged.
The Canary also asked Adam Boulton, Sky News presenter and Editor-at-Large, about the censorship.
Not a single acknowledgement or response was received.
Sky News’ self-censorship on the Blairite orchestrators of the Labour coup within the heart of the Corbyn camp, and the media organisation’s refusal to answer reasonable queries about the matter, raise urgent questions about Sky News’ role in broadcasting a one-sided narrative of events because of undue political influence.
Sky News has close ties to Portland Communications, a public relations firm founded and run by Blairite Tim Allan, a PR consultant and advisor to Tony Blair from 1992 to 1998. His last post in government under Blair was as Deputy Director of Communications at No. 10 Downing Street.
He then went on to become Director of Corporate Communications at BSkyB, before leaving to set-up Portland. In an interview with PRWeek, Allan describes the move from Sky to establishing Portland:
So I had lunch with Tony Balls [then head of Sky], and we came up with the idea that I would leave with the external PR account, then with Bell Pottinger.
PR Week goes on to report that Balls “agreed to pay six months of fees upfront, which covered all Allan’s overheads for the first year. Portland was born.”
From Sky, to Portland, to the Labour MP who tabled the motion against Corbyn
But an exclusive investigation on Tuesday by The Canary’s Steve Topple has found that Portland is directly linked to the anti-Corbyn uprising. Portland Communications’ Advisory Board includes Blair spin doctors Alastair Campbell and Jimmy Leach, along with Kitty Ussher, former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Hodge, who was Blair’s Trade Minister until 2007.
It was Margaret Hodge who first tabled a motion of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn on Friday.
The Canary asked Portland Communications by email whether the firm, or people affiliated with the firm, were involved in the mounting campaign to oust Corbyn, but received no response.
Tony Ball, Tim Allan’s former boss at Sky, later also went on to join Portland Communications’ leadership team himself.
Sky News Editor-at-Large Adam Boulton is personally close to the Blairite network. In 2006, Boulton married Tony Blair’s communications advisor Anji Hunter. The wedding was attended by Blair, and several other senior Blairite officials including Portland’s Alastair Campbell, along with Peter Hain, David Blunkett and Tessa Jowell.
As The Canary previously reported, Peter Hain – former Europe Minister under Blair (among other senior ministerial positions) – had arranged for Labour to contract the Fabian Society’s Marcus Roberts to ‘re-found’ the party, in 2011.
In his autobiography, Outside In, Hain admits that during his ministerial term, he was part of a “shadow” group inside the Labour Party set-up by Blair to prepare for a referendum, to get Britain to join the Euro currency. Much of this group appears to now be mobilising to uproot Corbyn from leadership of the party.
The close links between Sky News’ editorial department and Blairites leading the mobilisation against Corbyn, may explain the media organisation’s inexplicable decision to self-censor its own reporting on the identities of those Blairite ringleaders.
The silence of Sky News editors Adam Boulton and Faisal Islam, and political correspondent Sophy Ridge, suggests an alarming lack of transparency and basic impartiality in the firm’s editorial decisions – and an ongoing unwillingness to answer simple questions from reporters.
Steve Topple’s report also points out Portland’s wide-ranging connections across a full range of British – and international – news outlets.
The Blairite PR firm mobilising against Labour’s ‘hard left’
According to Topple’s investigation for The Canary, several Labour activists campaigning against Corbyn on social media are simultaneously affiliated to Portland Communications, as partners, staff or consultants. They consistently put forward a view that the uprising against Corbyn is widespread and heartfelt throughout the Labour Party.
The most prominent example is Thomas Mauchline, who heckled Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday at the Gay Pride march in London, blaming him for the EU referendum result. Mauchline is a Senior Account Manager at Portland Communications.
The episode was widely reported across the media, including by Sky News.
Mauchline demanded Corbyn’s resignation, and posted videos of the encounter on his Twitter feed.
Numerous anti-Corbyn campaigners who have received extensive social media attention are also affiliated to the firm, Topple reports. Portland Communications’ analyses posted on the firm’s website refer disparagingly to the “hard left” of the Labour Party aligned with Corbyn.
Mauchline’s own longstanding opposition to Corbyn’s rise to Labour leader is evident in an August 2015 post on the LabourList website, where he admits, “we moderates in the party were smashed.”
The term ‘moderates’ appears to be a polite euphemism for politicians representative of Tony Blair’s New Labour vision for the party.
The post shows that Tom Mauchline aligned himself with the Liz Kendall campaign – a Blairite contender for leadership of the party.
In response to queries from The Canary, Mauchline denied that he had any advanced warning of the incoming resignations, but admitted he had “mutual friends” in the Kendall campaign team as well as those of other ‘moderate’ Labour politicians opposed to Corbyn.
Privately, though, Portland staffers appear fully aware that opposition to Corbyn has little credibility with Labour members.
In his LabourList post last year, Mauchline explained the key problem facing the Blairites in Labour – namely that they had completely lost touch with the wider Labour Party membership:
In a search to become the party of government we have adopted the language of the centre ground, which fails to resonate with the rest of our movement. Whether this was the right decision doesn’t matter – it makes winning internal elections hard.
Part of Mauchline’s role at Portland appears to have involved monitoring Corbyn’s election strategy.
In the same month as his LabourList post, Mauchline offered an analysis of Corbyn’s leadership campaign for Portland Communications, noting that its rapid growth was because its message “resonates with the Labour heartlands.”
Portland Communications: advanced warning of mass resignations
Although Mauchline assured The Canary he had no idea that mass resignations were impending, this is not entirely true.
In January 2016, Mauchline posted an analysis of the first reshuffle of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet on the Portland Communications website.
The post reveals that as early as the beginning of this year, Blairite members of the Shadow Cabinet had agreed an informal “pact” to conduct mass resignations in the event of favoured Blairites being dismissed from their positions by Corbyn.
The post also showed that Mauchline was well-acquainted with informal networks of organising among Labour’s anti-Corbyn politicians.
The Portland Communications staffer was also aware that “mass resignations” were viewed by the Shadow Cabinet as a political option to sideline Corbyn, if deemed necessary:
The ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ MPs are getting organised. Almost as soon as Dugher was removed texts went out to MPs and prominent Labour figures with the lines to take in support of him. The ensuing outpouring of dismay on social media from MPs would have helped to close down Corbyn’s options. Whilst these texts/WhatsApp groups are standard practice now, what is more interesting is the rumoured NATO-style pact amongst moderate members of the Shadow Cabinet which would mean mass resignations if key moderates are removed from posts.
The publication of Mauchline’s analysis on the Portland Communications website illustrates the firm’s startlingly prescient advanced knowledge of the Shadow Cabinet’s “mass resignation” contingency plan to oust Corbyn. The EU referendum results appears to have provided a convenient pretext to put this “NATO-style pact” in motion.
Image courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Skudder