Darren Grimes and the Puppets of Power

“Don’t worry about your A-levels, I don’t have any. Do what I did instead and spend £676,000 in a nationwide referendum.”

So said the Twitter account of Darren Grimes on the day the English exam results were released. The tweet alludes to his origin story: the fashion student plucked from obscurity to face charges of electoral fraud after £675,000 of Brexit campaign money avoided a funding cap by being channelled through Grimes’ BeLeave organisation.

The tweet later disappeared. Did Grimes delete it? Was his account hacked? As several Twitter users noted in the comments, it is often tricky to tell whether Grimes’ tweets are genuine or parodic!

DG is known as something of a provocateur. He presents himself as an iconoclastic figure willing to make up the “bravery deficit” necessary to “challenge the pervasive left-wing bias in online content, much of which originates from the UK’s mainstream media.”

Curious, then, that his official website boasts that he “has appeared on BBC Any Questions?, Politics Live, Sky News, BBC News, talkRADIO, LBC and has written for The Spectator, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Spiked and other outlets.”

That’s a considerable number of mainstream media appearances in the face of “pervasive left-wing bias”! Indeed, we invite you to name another 27-year-old commentator with a mainstream media presence that even comes close to Grimes.

What is the secret to his success? How has the self-described “County Durham lad” managed to ascend to the heights while his peers toil in obscurity with journalism degrees, unpaid internships and the threat of job cuts?

Our article offers a thesis…

Disclaimer

The Free Press has an editorial policy. We strive to produce professional, rational, evidenced critiques. This policy will be stretched to breaking point when discussing Darren Grimes.

Grimes strikes us as a figure so ludicrous he shouldn’t have to be subjected to analysis. Like Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, his utterances are so blatantly contradictory, his ulterior motivations so transparent, taking the time to deconstruct him is like subjecting a toddler’s arrangement of alphabet blocks to literary critique.

Nonetheless, we will indulge him.

Looking for blatant self-contradiction? How about the article Grimes wrote for Conservative Home titled “Since We Must Use Coal, Why Import It All – When We Could Instead Create Jobs By Mining It In The North-East?” – a somewhat different tone than he adopted a few years before when Labour’s Laura Pidcock suggested something similar:

Looking for “anti-racism” tweets with overtones the KKK wouldn’t miss? Check out: “Gary Lineker says it’s brave to “speak out” on racism. Is it? Surely it would be even more courageous to be overtly racist in 2020, an action that in most cases you’d risk losing your job over? Down to the brilliant fact that this country really isn’t all that racist at all!”

Looking for incompetency? How about the time Grimes nodded happily while historian David Starkey claimed “slavery was not genocide otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or Britain.”

“I reject in the strongest possible terms what Dr Starkey said in that clip and so very wish I’d caught it at the time,” Grimes tweeted, citing inexperience as the reason he nodded in agreement rather than raising his eyebrows to the roof. “I am still learning the ropes, I will be much more alert to challenging this kind of thing in future.”

Which brings us on to lies. Private Eye Issue 1526 highlights the significant experience Grimes has an interviewer, including presenting the Live from North Street podcast from 2018-2019 (three of the guests interviewed were professors), the 15 podcasts he presented for BrexitCentral in 2017 and six episodes of his Grime Time podcast in which he interviewed figures like pro-EU campaigner Will Dry. Grimes had no issues challenging Dry, an influential figure whose views run contrary to Brexit, but apparently lacked the experience to argue with Starkey.

“In his explanation for not challenging Starkey,” Private Eye conclude, “which pointedly was not an apology, (Grimes) tried to put it all down to inexperience and ineptitude. His extensive back-catalogue suggests otherwise.”

Contradiction, inexperience, incompetence, lies…none of them seem to deny Grimes a platform in every conservative’s idea of liberal media run amok, the BBC. Most strikingly, Grimes was invited onto Politics Live to discuss the Irish election a few days after tweeting that he couldn’t get to grips with the Irish electoral system!

“How does this happen?” asked Dr Matt Lodder in the ensuing Twitter firestorm.

Power is a platform

Banner image from Darren Grimes’ Twitter as of 23/8/20 – Does he tweet #defundtheBBC so that it will no longer provide a platform for commentators who lack credibility?

The simple answer is: power.

Read beyond the boilerplate about “values” and “tradition” on Grimes’ websites and you soon find phrases like “it is on us to ensure that the next generation is introduced to market-based solutions to the environment, housing and the cost of living crisis” and “proud to be pro-enterprise.”

What group of people, we wonder, benefit from “market-based solutions” and “pro-enterprise” policies? Durham lads or a wealthy elite?

Reading Grimes’ CV is like joining the dots in a Who’s Who of Brexit billionaires.

DG entered this scene by setting up BeLeave. Though the organisation would supposedly represent young Brexiteers it has a patchy record: the Guardian report that BeLeave registered a grand total of two expenses during its lifespan: £461 for a steak dinner and £675,000 passed along to a company called AggregateIQ!

Aggregate IQ have links to Cambridge Analytica, the hugely controversial organisation accused of misappropriating personal data and aiding Donald Trump’s rise to power. Cambridge Analytica have particularly strong associations with Facebook and it was the social media giant who ultimately swallowed the £675,000, allowing Vote Leave to purchase ads they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to run since they’d reached their campaign spending limit.

That’s known as electoral fraud.

The Electoral Commission fined virtually everyone concerned and were particularly damning regarding the “independence” of BeLeave. “The evidence shows that (Grimes’) BeLeave campaign website was set up by Vote Leave, its content was created by Vote Leave, he consulted Vote Leave on campaigning and Vote Leave actively sought funding for his work.”

Grimes later won an appeal against his £20,000 censure but Vote Leave paid a £61,000 fine – a terrible blow for hard up Vote Leave donors like Aaron Banks and Peter Cruddas, no doubt.

How did Grimes move on from this troubling period? He, er…took a job with Brexit Central, an organisation under the control of Matthew Elliott who also, er…ran the Vote Leave campaign…

Are you managing to join these dots!

More recently Grimes has worked for The Institute for Economic Affairs, who describe themselves as the “the UK’s original free-market think-tank” (enough said) and a charming organisation called Turning Point UK. Turning Point are an offshoot of the American group who encourage students to report “left-wing” university professors, publish a “watchlist” of these academics, and have shady funding arrangements which attempt to disguise fossil fuel funding of a supposedly grassroots organisation.

Grimes is all about grassroots, of course. His latest project, Reasoned UK, has a Go Fund Me page currently halfway towards a £50,000 target. “Reasoned UK is an online grassroots organisation and video channel” the page states. “It is registered under the name Media and Activism, 5 Elstree Gate, Elstree Way, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, WD6 1JD. The director of the company is Oliver Anisfeld. The funds will be withdrawn to Media and Activism’s account.”

Would that be the same Oliver Anisfield who is the son of Lance Forman, a Brexit Party candidate and food mogul who, according to London Economic, “dreams of completely deregulating business by leaving the EU and has spoken of his annoyance at pesky EU regulations on food safety inconveniencing his luxury business”?

Not another grassroots organisation with millionaire funders and associates! What a coincidence!

An Isolated Case?

You could be forgiven for reading this article as a personal attack on Darren Grimes. It’s true we don’t like the cut of his jib, but there are bigger issues at stake.

Politicians are forced to declare their funding sources so that the electorate has the opportunity to scrutinise them and exercise critical thought. Have you ever seen Darren Grimes introduced as “heavily associated with right-wing millionaires and billionaires who have a declared interest in the dismantling of the state, deregulation and slashing tax rates”?

Nor is Grimes a lone case.

At the tender age of 23 Tom Harwood seems to be on a similar fast-track to Grimes. Harwood benefitted from some early support from Vote Leave, running their Students for Britain campaign,  and was also a member of Turning Point UK. Harwood (handily for us!) lists all media appearances on his website. Licence fee payers will be delighted to hear that he has appeared on BBC TV and radio programmes a total of ten times in 2020 alone!

Tom Harwood – an intellectual heavyweight worthy of media prominence at such a young age?

Olivia Utley is another interesting case. Utley, like Grimes and Harwood, is still in her twenties but clearly on the career fast-track. Her current role is Head of PR and Deputy Leader Writer at the Sun.

The Article, a right-wing outlet she briefly worked for, state that she has “a distinguished lineage. She was brought up by her mother, Catherine (also a contributor to The Article) and her aunt, Virginia, who was (influential right-wing editor) Charles Moore’s assistant. Her uncle, the Daily Mail columnist Tom Utley, is a former colleague of the PM. Her grandfather, the late T.E. Utley, was renowned as the blind sage of the Telegraph and revered by, among others, Margaret Thatcher, Charles Moore and Boris Johnson.”

Utley has, if you like, had a more conventional rise up the media ranks than Grimes or Harwood. Close family relatives worked in the industry, allowing her Establishment leg-ups like an internship at The Times and the role at The Article that would be tough to attain without such connections. Does any of this shape her output?

Have a quick read over her Sun article “It’ll Do Our Spoiled Young Remainers Good to Remain in Britain For the Summer Holidays” – good medicine if you suffer from low blood pressure!

The article contains phrases like “I can’t help thinking a summer spent in Britain will do our spoiled ­metropolitan ­millennials a world of good” and “reconnected to their roots at last, they might just begin to feel the first stirrings of patriotism running through their British veins.”

The article was the subject of a beautiful piece of Twitter analysis by @nicktolhurst. The gist of Nick’s argument was that Utley essentially wrote an article criticising herself! Utley may not be a “spoiled young remainer”, but her privileged career path suggests that she’s a spoiled young Brexiteer! Moreover, there is blatant hypocrisy at the heart of the article – Utley clearly enjoys a foreign break as much as the rest of her generation:

It seems extremely unlikely to us that Utley, a young, metropolitan journalist with a degree in English Literature and the History of Art, uses phrases like “the first stirrings of patriotism running through their British veins” in London bars with her friends. Nor do we believe she works a high-pressure job at the Sun so she can holiday in Wales!

What Olivia has learned, likely through her media lineage, is the hard, simple truth: if you want to have a successful career in journalism do not speak with your own voice, speak with the voice of power.

Conclusion

The extent to which Grimes, Harwood and Utley believe what they write is an interesting question but, in a sense, irrelevant.

The fact is, if any of them spoke with a different voice – say an equivalently forceful left-wing voice – they would lose their platform of billionaire support. Without this “base” in rags like The Sun and Telegraph, or right-wing “grassroots” organisations, they would lack the profile to earn invites to “neutral” outlets like the BBC – which, of course, never discloses their true powerbase to the public when introducing them as guests…

The public see Grimes, a young man speaking in a Northern accent, or Utley, a 20-something, metropolitan woman, and have no reason to question the authenticity of their voice. 

You don’t need a degree in marketing – certainly not a half-completed one in fashion – to know that the messenger can carry more weight than the message.

So expect to see more of Grimes, Harwood, Utley et al, fresh, diverse faces carrying the message of old, white, male millionaires, in the future.

Puppets dancing to the tune of power. That is mainstream journalism.

***Postscript

Shortly after we posted this article Twitter user Jonathan Calder got in touch to direct our attention to this June 2015 interview with Darren Grimes. The then-Liberal Democrat activist praised Charles Kennedy for his stance on Europe:

“He was always pushing for the party to be an internationalist voice.”

“He believed that in an increasingly globalised world, having Britain in Europe was the only way forward.

“And I think that’s the message the party needs pushing. And he was one of the first people to get out there and voice that.”

What transformed Grimes, within the space of a year, to a raging Brexiteer? The sniff of an opportunity…?

We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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