The section of Steve Baker’s Telegraph piece about Lord Feldman grabbed the headlines this morning, but it’s another passage that merits closer attention:
‘Our Party has agreed to stay neutral in the campaign, so I am delighted to congratulate Lord Stephen Gilbert on wisely giving up his Party and Government position and access. It is right that he should campaign full time either for the permanent supremacy of EU law or for the Conservatives – not both.
Concerns about others working for the pro-EU BSE campaign as well as the Party remain. Expert digital campaigning consultants Tom Edmonds and Craig Elder work both on Conservative campaigns and for BSE. They have access to sensitive data on millions of voters and to sophisticated voter targeting techniques. This conflict of loyalties presents a grave reputational risk.’
As I recounted in my long-read about the workings of the Conservative election campaign, Edmonds and Elder are skilled and experienced digital campaigners. Their consultancy, Edmonds Elder, is currently contracted to work for CCHQ and they are now also contracted to work for the pro-Brussels Remain campaign in the referendum.
We reported in November that Baker had written to Feldman expressing concern that the reported involvement of senior CCHQ figures in the Remain campaign went “against the spirit – and perhaps the letter – of the resolution made by the Party’s board [to remain neutral]”. In that letter, Baker asked 24 questions.
Fourteen of those questions related to Lord Gilbert’s decision to stay as Deputy Chairman of the Party while working part-time for Populus on polling for the Remain campaign. Gilbert has now reportedly decided that out of ‘respect’ for the Party he ought to leave CCHQ to pursue that campaigning interest, followed by a likely return after the referendum.
The next five of Baker’s questions related to concerns about Edmond and Elder having exactly the same dual, conflicting roles. Given Gilbert’s decision, they ought to follow his lead and leave CCHQ in order to respect the Party Board’s neutrality policy. Like Gilbert, they are loyal servants of the Conservative Party and should of course be welcomed back once the referendum is over – it’s just that in this unique situation it isn’t possible to wear both hats.
The final five of Baker’s questions were about Lord Feldman’s own work – particularly regarding claims that he was fundraising for the pro-EU campaign. Today’s Telegraph report leaves the situation still rather unclear – Feldman has told Baker that he has referred donors to the Remain camp, while a CCHQ statement claims that:
‘Donors will call Lord Feldman to ask how to support both the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns. Lord Feldman will simply direct them to the relevant people on the campaigns.’
Note the use of the more hypothetical ‘will’, rather than the factual ‘have’ and ‘has’. Vote Leave say they have yet to receive any donors via a referral from the Party Chairman. The full details of that debate are yet to be teased out.