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Fri, 4 December 2020

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People's Vote campaign plunged into turmoil as senior officials are sacked

People's Vote campaign plunged into turmoil as senior officials are sacked
3 min read

The People's Vote campaign has descended into open warfare amid attempts to sack two of its most senior figures.

Director James McGrory and head of communications Tom Baldwin were told to leave the organisation with immediate effect on Sunday night.

Patrick Heneghan, Labour's former head of campaigns, has been appointed as the organisation's acting chief executive as part of the shake-up.

According to the Financial Times, the changes were ordered by Roland Rudd, chair of the Open Britain group - one of five organisations that make up the People's Vote campaign for a second Brexit referendum.

In an email to supporters, he said it was time to "refocus" in advance of a possible snap election and "set our campaign on a more structured basis".

Mr Rudd added: "I want to put on record my thanks to James and Tom for all their work. In difficult circumstances they have done a tremendous job. 

"But as you will all know the ongoing internal issues in the campaign have been allowed to carry on for too long. We now need a much clearer structure as we move forward."

The sackings - which one insider said had left staff "incandescent" - were immediately questioned by former Labour communications chief and People's Vote campaigner Alastair Campbell, who accused Mr Rudd of indulging in "boardroom politics".

Mr Campbell tweeted: "He has tonight sent an email, without any consultation with the other groups, saying James McGrory and Tom Baldwin have been fired to be replaced immediately by Patrick Heneghan of @euromove... as interim CEO PV. He does not have the right to do so.

"While the staff have been busy fighting for a @peoplesvote_uk and organising one of the biggest marches of modern times Rudd has been engaged close to full time in boardroom politics, a board which with few exceptions has done little for the campaign."

And he said Mr Rudd - the brother of former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd - had accepted that his "status as a multimillionaire businessman" was "not the best look for the campaign".

Mr Campbell insisted that the campaign's Joint Media Unit would "continue to pay" Tom Baldwin's salary and would be "happy" to pay for Mr McGrory's continued employment as well.

And he added: "Few have done as much as those two to get us where we are."

Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Baldwin - wo was an adviser to Ed Miliband when he was Labour leader - hit back at Mr Rudd and said he would be turning up for work as normal.

He said: "Roland Rudd has chosen this time to put a wrecking ball through the campaign. It's not about me, it's certainly not about him.

"The People's Vote campaign is made up of five organisations. He is the outgoing executive chairman of one and he's making the mistake that a lot of businessmen do when they dabble in politis, which is to think that because they have a certain title on a board, they think that they then own the campaign."

Stephen Dorrell, the former Conservative health secretary who chairman of European Movement UK, also questioned the legitimacy of the sackings.

He said: "Roland Rudd is chair of Open Britain; the People’s Vote campaign includes European Movement and other partners who were not consulted about untimely management changes in Open Britain."

The bitter public feud follows months of tension over the future of the campaign and come ahead of a fresh Commons push for a second EU referendum.

Mr Rudd is understood to have been pressing for the organisation to adopt an explicitly pro-Remain position, while others have argued that the campaign should focus on winning over undecided MPs as well as voters who backed Leave in 2016.

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