Blairite PR firm tied to Labour coup knew of “mass resignation pact” six months ago

Nafeez Ahmed

A powerful British public relations firm with close ties to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and key Labour officials behind the coup to oust Jeremy Corbyn knew of “mass resignation” plans half a year ago.

In a rolling series of investigations, The Canary has exposed the alarming web of connections between PR agency Portland Communications, and a network of Blairites in and out of government that “choreographed” the mass resignations leading to the vote of no confidence against Corbyn on Tuesday.

“Portland Communications is a political consultancy and public relations agency set up in 2001 by Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair and director of communications at BSkyB,” reported The Canary’s Steve Topple, who also noted the PR agency’s wide-ranging connections to British media, including Sky News, ITN and the BBC:

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To spell it out in layman’s terms, Portland Communications is a company organised, fronted and controlled by a plethora of apparatchiks of Tony Blair and the centre-right of Labour.

Topple also revealed that numerous employees, partners and associates of Portland Communications have ties to the London-based Labour think-tank, the Fabian Society.

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On Monday, The Canary confirmed that the self-styled Blairite Labour MP, Conor McGinn, who coordinated the mass resignations in the party over the weekend with former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, was part of a Blairite network surrounding the Fabians.

Under the deputy leadership of Marcus Roberts, from 2011 onwards the Fabian Society had been tasked to help ‘re-found’ the Labour Party under the direction of former Blair minister Peter Hain. The process had been criticised internally at the time for bypassing the wider party.

“Mass resignations” pact

Yet new evidence obtained by The Canary confirms that Portland Communications was aware of a “pact” between Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet members to trigger “mass resignations” as long as six months ago.

In January 2016, a Portland Communications analysis posted on the agency’s website refers to the first reshuffle of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet.

The post reveals that the Blairite PR agency was well-acquainted with the informal internal networks of organising between anti-Corbyn Labour politicians. It also confirms that the firm has long been aware that “mass resignations” were viewed by the Shadow Cabinet as a political option to sideline Corbyn – six months before the EU referendum was to take place.

Point 4 of the Portland Communications analysis reads as follows:

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 passage refers to Jeremy Corbyn’s sacking of Shadow Culture Secretary Michael Dugher, for spending too much time publicly attacking his own party.

Conor McGinn and Michael Dugher, sitting in a tree, plotting mutiny

The day after the re-shuffle, Labour MP Conor McGinn, who reportedly orchestrated the mass resignations “for maximum impact” according to a censored Sky News report, released a statement on Twitter implicitly snubbing Corbyn’s decision:

Dugher, like McGinn – who has praised Tony Blair’s “transformative” government and characterised himself as pro-interventionist – is very much part of the New Labour ‘old guard.’ He previously served as a senior advisor to Gordon Brown in No. 10.

Shortly after his sacking, Dugher made no secret of his hopes to oust Corbyn from his leadership of the party.

At the end of January, Dugher told the Mail on Sunday that if the Labour Party failed to achieve a sufficiently high success rate in the May elections, including in English town halls, Wales and the Scottish Parliament, Corbyn would “face a leadership challenge.”

If Labour flops, Dugher warned, “Mr Corbyn will have to abandon his Left-wing policies – or be forced out.”

Dugher’s friend, Conor McGinn – whose Fabian Society connections plug him into a Blairite network dominated by Portland Communications – played a pivotal role in organising the uprising in the party after the EU referendum result.

The press knew the coup was coming

In March, the Mail predicted that Corbyn “will face a leadership challenge after the EU referendum this summer.”

The paper also said:

If Labour’s Sadiq Khan fails to be elected Mayor of London in May, it will almost certainly trigger a move from moderates in the party to oust Mr Corbyn.

The Mail report indicated that Blairite ‘moderates’ in the party were preparing for any opportunity to challenge Corbyn’s leadership – from the Mayoral elections in May, to the EU referendum in July. The paper named a number of Labour politicians whom sources in the party had said were “tipped to run as figures who will be able to unite the party after a year of damaging infighting.”

The simmering plans – and the reality that they have nothing to do with the EU referendum – have been corroborated elsewhere.

Reporting from the Labour Party conference in September 2015, no less, George Eaton, political editor of the New Statesman, noted that: “Corbyn’s opponents acknowledge that their task next time will be to unite around one candidate and to back him or her unreservedly.”

Once again, the elections in May came up as a key test date for Corbyn’s future for a number of rebel MPs whom the New Statesman did not identify. In Eaton’s words:

Some MPs have earmarked this date as the first possible moment to strike. Others warn that this strategy could founder if Corbyn exceeds the low expectations.

Tony Blair’s PR front group

The Portland Communications six month old analysis of the “mass resignation” pact among Shadow Cabinet members was authored by Tom Mauchline, a Senior Account Manager at the firm.

Mauchline recorded himself heckling Corbyn at the Pride march on Saturday, where he demanded the Labour leader’s resignation after the EU referendum results. The videos, posted to Mauchline’s Twitter feeds, were almost immediately picked up and broadcast across the British media.

Mauchline told The Canary that he had no knowledge that mass resignations were impending within the party, and that he had no formal affiliations with its ‘moderate’ Blairite faction. He conceded, however, that he had “mutual friends” with senior campaign officials for Labour politicians who had stood against Corbyn in the leadership elections.

According to Steve Topple, Mauchline is only one of several Portland employees publicly campaigning against Corbyn’s leadership.

Portland Communications’ senior leadership team has direct ties to the instigators of the coup. For instance, Kitty Usher – who is on Portland’s Advisory Board – is a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Hodge – the ex-Blairite Minister and Labour MP who first tabled the motion for a vote of no confidence against Corbyn.

In other words, the Blairite PR firm that had anticipated the Labour “mass resignation” coup to oust Corbyn half a year ago has ties to the very organisers of the coup.

Image courtesy of Flickr/David Holt

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