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Sat 20 July 2019
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Otto English delves deeper into Claire Fox and Spiked Online‘s close connection to Nigel Farage’s new party, and discovers another PR executive involved in recruiting potential MEPs.

It seems just a few short weeks ago that we were howling at its laugh-a-minute ‘March for Leave’ and low-tech website. How did it turn from an amateurish outfit into an undeniably slick operation – with a superior launch video and a festival-style roadshow touring the country? And, on that journey, why has Nigel Farage stuck so steadfastly by Claire Fox, the only weak link in the chain?  

On its website, the Brexit Party declares: “democracy is under threat, join us to start the fightback!”… potential recruits and voters would do well to start by working out quite who that ‘us’ is.

Last week I looked at how Lucy Harris, a communications specialist for the Conservatives in the London Assembly, formed Leavers for Britain before becoming a candidate for the European elections. But there is another key PR person involved.


It started with Claire Fox. To grasp why her past membership of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) remains so relevant, and why people like me keep banging on about it, you have to first understand that the RCP never actually went away.

Yes, the party dissolved in 1997 and, yes, its in-house magazine Living Marxism swiftly followed, but that was not the end of matters. A year later, Spiked Online appeared, which shared the same editor, Mick Hume, many of the same journalists as Living Marxism, and trod the same line.

Fox wrote for the new site, but simultaneously also launched her ‘Academy of Ideas’ and its spin-off, the Battle of Ideas event.

Over the next two decades, both endeavours thrived and, much like an ‘old school network’, there was much cross-pollination between them. Over the years Fox, RCP founder Frank Furedi and Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill all became well-known media figures, but the network extended way beyond their immediate circle.

The group had always excelled at astroturfing – magnifying their message across the political fringes via front organisations and pop-up publications and, if anything changed with the demise of the RCP, it was only that, with time, the Living Marxism alumni simply got much better at it.  

The Film

In February 2019, a film-maker, Kevin Laitak, began turning up at Leave groups in Warrington, Manchester and Wigan. These were grassroots organisations, set up by local Brexit activists, that had sprung up in the wake of Lucy Harris rolling out Leavers of Britain.

“It was like a conversation with a typical recruiter” one potential MEP candidate told me, with Katon spending the call “selling herself and her organisation to me”.

Laitak told campaigners that he was making a short film about rank-and-file Brexiters and sought permission to interview them. His Twitter timeline shows him to be a keen follower of Claire Fox and a disciple of Frank Furedi, and he was particularly eager to engage with left-leaning Leavers. When it became clear that the Brexit Party was going to be contesting EU elections, Laitak revealed that he had contacts and began reaching out to activists who might consider standing as MEPs.

Potential candidates were then called by a woman called Lesley Katon. Lesley told would-be recruits that she was the co-founder of a group called ‘Invoke Democracy Now’ and that, while she had had doubts about Farage, she now believed that there was a bigger democratic issue at stake.

“It was like a conversation with a typical recruiter” one potential MEP candidate told me, with Katon spending the call “selling herself and her organisation to me”.

The Recruitment

Invoke Democracy Now (IDN) has some attention-grabbing personnel. Its launch video features not only Claire Fox but Luke Gittos, the legal editor of Spiked and Brendan O’Neill, its editor. An IDN event in September had a panel that included Living Marxism alumni Tessa Mayes and Munira Mirza, both Spiked writers, and Mick Hume, former editor of Living Marxism.  

An initial approach on Twitter didn’t end well because she blocked me and locked her account. Unperturbed, I turned to the Pagefield website only to discover that her name no longer featured.

For such a small group, the Spiked network is remarkably well-represented on the Brexit Party candidate list and it is quite possible that Katon has been ransacking her contacts book. In addition to her client Claire Fox, Katon’s colleague David Bull who spoke at a Spiked event in 2003, is also standing for the party in the North West.  

Then there’s James Heartfield, a long-time RCP cadre. He’s fourth on the candidate list in Yorkshire. In London Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, a former RCP activist and Spiked contributor is hoping to become a Brexit Party MEP, while Scotland has long time Spiked writer Stuart Waiton.

Lesley Katon herself was a director of the East London Science School until 2017 – an institution noted for the LM/RCP connections of its founders. Katon writes for Brexit Central and has spoken at Claire Fox’s Battle of Ideas festival.


The PR Company

Katon is also associate partner at Pagefield, the public relations firm which represents Fox’s Battle of Ideas festival. The company’s website boasts that it will: “passionately defend, protect and promote your interests and your reputation”. Katon is said to have made much of this connection in at least one of her telephone interviews.

The now deleted version of the Pagefield website

Pagefield Communications was founded in 2010 by Mark Gallagher. According to Powerbase, in 2016 Gallagher was present at a key day-long meeting attended by David Davis, John Redwood and others that resulted in a blueprint for a hard Brexit. The firm’s long list of clients includes tobacco firms and the pesticide industry and Pagefield recently bolstered senior ranks by hiring former Sunday Express editor Martin Townsend and ‘celebrity doctor’ David Bull.  

Last year Mark Gallagher reportedly recruited many of the former employees of the Bell Pottinger public relations firm which was expelled from the PR trade body and went into administration in the wake of a secret campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa.

PR Week reported that seventeen of Bell Pottinger’s 22-strong crisis comms team joined a new company Pagefield Global Counsel. An additional six former Bell Pottinger employees were expected to join Pagefield itself.

I was intrigued to find out more about Katon’s role in recruiting MEPs and sought to speak to her about her (and potentially Pagefield’s) involvement in it. But, an initial approach on Twitter didn’t end well because she blocked me and locked her account. Unperturbed, I turned to the Pagefield website only to discover that her name no longer featured.

Seeking to clarify whether she was still a member of staff, Byline Times contacted her office and a colleague confirmed that Lesley was “out for two weeks” but would be back after that.

Two weeks takes us to the end of May – just after the EU elections.


What is Going On?

In its defence, the Brexit Party was set up in a hurry and has inevitably had to draw on pre-existing networks in order to field candidates in the EU Elections, but it seems that an awful lot of RCP personnel are hopping on board for the ride. And why did Katon identify herself as coming from the Spiked/LM front Invoke Democracy Now and not the Brexit Party?

It’s probable that Katon was just one of a group of recruiters reaching out for candidates. Perhaps she was tasked with finding Labour leavers – hence her selling her IDN credentials. But, details aside, it is extraordinary that an off-shoot of the former Revolutionary Communist/Spiked network is operating at the very heart of the Brexit Party.

Does Farage know or does he simply not care? And what of the role of Pagefield in all of this? Has Katon simply been given a few weeks off to lend her expertise?

On its website, the Brexit Party declares: “democracy is under threat, join us to start the fightback!”. It is quite right – and potential recruits and voters would do well to start by working out quite who that ‘us’ is.   

Byline Times has approached Lesley Katon and Pagefield Communications for comment several times and has yet to receive a response.

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