A whistleblower who worked for the official Vote Leave campaign has broken cover to raise concerns that the masterminds behind the 2016 vote – including key figures now working for Theresa May in Downing Street – may have flouted referendum spending rules and then attempted to destroy evidence.
The allegations, from former volunteer Shahmir Sanni, are detailed in an interview in the Observer and supported by a mass of documents and files that he has passed to the Electoral Commission and the police.
Sanni’s central claim concerns a donation of £625,000 that Vote Leave ostensibly made to an independent referendum campaign organisation called BeLeave. He claims the money, channelled to a digital services firm linked to the controversial Cambridge Analytica firm, violated election rules because it was not a genuine donation. [Continue reading…]
Public deliberation and debate are the lifeblood of a healthy, functioning democracy: this manifests itself in parties that run campaigns with broad appeal; in wide-ranging, public platforms that provide a basis on which voters can hold governments to account.
The trend towards micro-targeting risks moving us further away from the democracy of the public forum, towards a fractured, individualised democracy in which “swing voters” are targeted based on narrow issues, using false claims or under-the-radar dog-whistling that are not subjected to public scrutiny. Meanwhile, voters seen as already decided, or insignificant to the result, go ignored.
We don’t know how effective Cambridge Analytica’s efforts were at changing voters’ minds. We don’t know whether the extra spending Vote Leave channelled via BeLeave helped swing the referendum result. Clearly, the poll revealed deep schisms within Britain, fuelled by discontent with the status quo among the electorate. Those sentiments were not manufactured by malevolent actors deploying subterfuge.
The Observer has made no secret of its belief that Brexit is not in the national interest. But asking questions about transparency and fairness is driven not by a partisan wish to overturn a referendum result, but the desire for a critical debate about whether our electoral laws, and ultimately our democracy, remain fit for purpose. Left or right; remain or leave: this debate concerns democrats from all political traditions.
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