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Politics Amp Policy
Ukip donor behind website attacking rivals
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 13:30:01 GMT

An “independent” campaign group whose professionally produced website The Lib/Lab/Con aims to “expose the weaknesses of the political elite” has been bankrolled by one of Ukip’s biggest donors and is backed by the party’s leadership.

The Financial Times has learnt that LibLabCon.com is funded by Arron Banks, a Bristol-based insurance tycoon who promised £1m to Ukip ahead of the general election. The site may offer some clues about his priorities.

In bold lettering on its homepage over a black-and-white photograph of David Cameron being mocked by a hooded teenager is the phrase: “We aren’t rightwing, leftwing or any-wing . . . we treat all politicians with equal contempt”.

The expletive-ridden site features headlines such as “Should the Death Penalty be Returned for Child Murder?” and repeated attacks on Westminster politicians from the three main parties, laced with attempts at humour.

It describes the MP Chuka Umunna as “Labour’s chief spokesman for tokenism” and says that human rights group Amnesty International campaigns for “loudmouth idiots chained to a radiator”.

LibLabCon is vague about its backing, saying it is made up of “private individuals” who have engaged the services of “professional campaigners” to run it. Despite reading scores of pages on the website the FT was unable to find any mention of Mr Banks.

In early November the domain was registered to Arron Banks at Lysander House in Bristol — the address of his insurance company GoSkippy. The site is hosted in the US and the domain name had previously been up for sale. In late November, the site was re-registered via Identity Protect Limited in an apparent attempt to mask the identity of its backer.

Two senior Ukip figures told the FT that Mr Banks was still funding the website. Asked about the site, Mr Banks said in an emailed response that LibLabCon was “a collection of people, the main writers are ex-Labour and Green Party, with an ex-CCO as a main contributor”, adding: “I don’t write stories.” He did not address the issue of the site’s ownership or funding in his reply.

The Ukip leadership is enthusiastic about the site. “Arron Banks is brilliant,” said Andrew Reid, general secretary. “I’m so pleased with that website . . .  not only a man with money but also a man with fresh ideas.”

Tim Aker, head of policy, has tweeted a link to the site, saying: “Now this is very good”.

The website criticises the leaders of the three main political parties, suggesting that they are all “best friends” and grew up in country mansions. But while David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were all raised in comfortable homes, none has anywhere near the wealth enjoyed by Mr Banks himself.

The self-made tycoon owns and rents for weddings an imposing mansion in Gloucestershire, previously owned by Mike Oldfield, the rock star behind the album “Tubular Bells”. The mansion, with sweeping views of the Severn Estuary, has an orangery and a “magnificent Grand Hall”.

Mr Banks, who is worth an estimated £100m — and is a former Tory donor — says he started with nothing in life and now lives in a “very pleasant 5 bedroom 14th century cottage with nice open fire”. He co-founded the Brightside insurance firm and also has interests in diamond mines in South Africa.

He came to prominence during the last Tory conference in September when he offered £100,000 to Ukip, only for foreign secretary William Hague to say he had never heard of him. In a dramatic riposte, Mr Banks increased his offering, to £1m although it will be paid in instalments.

LibLabCon.com began a Twitter feed on November 4. It also has a blog, penned under the pseudonym “Statler and Waldorf” — an illusion to the two Muppets — which is relentlessly scathing about Westminster politicians.

The website is not openly supportive of Ukip but there are hints of support. After Ukip leader Nigel Farage was ridiculed for criticising “ostentatious” breast-feeding in public places, the blog leapt to his defence.

A survey invited readers to say who had been the biggest “bullshitter” of the year: as of December 17 Mr Farage had zero votes with David Cameron at 53 per cent and Ed Miliband at 20 per cent.

News of Mr Banks’ funding for the website comes days after Ukip advised its members to stay off Twitter after a string of online gaffes. Websites have been told they can only use the party logo if they obtain “express written consent”.

Despite retweets from some Ukip activists, mainstream success has eluded LibLabCon.com — it had just 722 followers on Twitter as of December 22. A large proportion are Ukip activists. Traffic figures for the site were not available.

Ukip refused to comment, saying: “This is a matter for Mr Banks and not for Ukip.”



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