Carole Cadwalladr in The Observer:
“Whatevs,” says Banks when I bring up the Electoral Commission. “I don’t give a monkey’s what the Electoral Commission says.”
To be clear, the Electoral Commission rules aren’t guidelines for the tombola at the village fete. He’s talking about UK electoral law. Electoral law that Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, says isn’t fit for purpose. Tambini met with the regulators and other parties and they’ve joined forces this week to call for a parliamentary commission to urgently review it.
Modern online campaigning has fundamentally changed everything, Tambini tells me. “And the existing framework is utterly weak and helpless.” The cost of building databases, money poured into third-party campaigns, offshore spending – these were either largely or totally unregulated. There is no longer any way, with current legislation, of guaranteeing a free and fair election.
Or as Banks puts it: “We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were.”
He didn’t break the law, he says. He “pushed the boundary of everything, right to the edge. It was war.” And later: “You’re looking for a smoking gun but there’s a smoking gun on every table! And no one cares. No one cares!”
I’ve started to think that Brexit isn’t our Trump moment. That’s what’s coming next – 2016 will be nothing next to the general election of 2020, our year of reckoning.
Before I meet Banks, I watch him talking on stage at a trade show called “Master Investor”. I learned of it because I had liked Leave.EU’s Facebook page and I’m now in their million-strong database. This isn’t just a million people, to be clear. It’s the entire social networks of a million people. I had received an email inviting me to the event, hosted by Banks’s great friend, Jim Mellon.
Mellon is another businessman who donated to Leave.EU. He made millions in the early 90s in Russia in uranium mining, investing $100,000 in a company that was worth $2.5bn two years later. He doesn’t live in Britain though. The man who introduced Banks to Farage, who brought the Brexit team together, wasn’t actually eligible to vote in the referendum. He lives in Ibiza and the Isle of Man. Article 50 as brought to you by true patriots, foreign donors, multimillionaires, Belizean passport holders and tax exiles.
I ask Banks about the email I got, advertising the event. The insurance offers he’s sending to Leave.EU subscribers. The use of his political database for commercial purposes
“Jim Mellon is my friend,” he says. “Why shouldn’t I? It’s my data.”
Well, no, it’s not. It’s my data. Your data. It’s what’s at the heart of all this. Steve Bannon knows this, and Robert Mercer knows this, and Arron Banks knows this. His day job, one of them – insurance – is all about data. “We know everything about everyone,” he says. “We buy everything.”
The battle for data is where the next general election will be fought. Politics is war, says Steve Bannon. And Banks is already out of the trenches.