My politics were shaped when my mam told me the proudest moment of her life: when she bought her council house. She now had an asset to pass on to her kids. As well as security and something to show for her years of hard slog as a single working parent. It shaped my entire world view. It made me politically aware and feel a desire to advocate policies like that, aspirational policies that offer hope and pride to those from working class communities.
Last year, when the Electoral Commission made the shock decision to whack me with their maximum penalty after bowing to pressure from activist QCs with vast coffers, my mam called me up and offered to sell that ex-council house that was now our home. I felt utterly powerless, my own mother was considering selling off that house that had filled her with such pride and joy. A home that had such a profound impact upon my world view. A home that my mother had worked so hard to nurture and fortify. Selling off our home, her pride and joy, all to help her sun avoid bankruptcy.
That’s why I felt especially angry at the revelation that the Electoral Commission has already incurred almost half a million quid in costs (so far) in defending my Appeal against their decision and unjust penalty. My solicitor, James Saunders, has spoken out about the case and the challenges we face in making our case against the Commission. Funded by the taxpayer and using City lawyers and a celebrity QC, these costs could rise to £1 million before the case is decided at a hearing on 15 July this year. My costs so far stand at £88,000, raised with the support of almost three thousand donors through CrowdJustice.
In 2015, age 22, I decided to campaign for Brexit. I was a full-time student and working part-time in a supermarket to support myself, but I knew that this wasn’t a fight I could sit out. I threw myself into it, setting up my campaign BeLeave. I led a loose association of young people called BeLeave who helped contribute to a pro-Brexit digital campaign. We believed passionately that our generation was being locked out of the debate. The received wisdom was that all young people were all pro-EU and not worth engaging with. I wanted BeLeave to change that.
We were putting out graphics and videos from January 2016 using the hashtag #BeLeave. After an unsuccessful hunt for donors, Vote Leave, the campaign that BeLeave backed for designation as the lead campaign in the referendum, said they were in a position to offer BeLeave surplus donations. I jumped at the chance to spend the money on a proper digital campaign! The BBC have since reported that one of our ads was seen on Facebook over 4 million times. I was, and still am, so proud of that campaign. I had no experience in politics, I was just an amateur travelling up and down the country making the case via the media for young people who want to vote for Brexit.
When August 2016 came around, I started getting a lot of press attention about this donation from Vote Leave. Even my family started to be hounded by the press. This was when the Electoral Commission opened their first investigation. They gladly closed it within a few weeks, finding no wrongdoing. I was delighted and relieved as it was an incredibly stressful period for me and my family. But then in 2017 the same thing happened. The outcome was the same; the Electoral Commission dropped the case.
It wasn’t until October 2017 – when the Commission’s handling of the referendum was challenged at the High Court by well-funded pro-Remain QCs – that the Commission opened a third investigation, which reversed its previous findings and decided to whack me with the maximum £20,000 penalty for the offences they had previously discounted. Twice. The Electoral Commission now say that BeLeave somehow never existed, despite having never coming close to this conclusion in previous investigations.
So-called whistleblowers then came forward. There are reports in the press of these whistleblowers being involved in some data offshoots to Cambridge Analytica. Those same reports have mooted the idea that this so-called whistleblowing was merely a smokescreen to deflect from this. One of these ‘whistleblowers’ submitted evidence that is riddled with contradictions.
To make matters worse the alleged whistleblowers evidence was not fully disclosed to me during my interview under caution. An interview for which I supplied a written statement that the Electoral Commission’s Head of Regulation now admits she lost whilst making her decision against me.
I have not found the so-called guardians of our democracy to be independent, fair, objective, or a promoter of democracy as it states to be. I have found it to be capricious and arbitrary, bowing to pressure from vested interests and profligate with public money (Guido exposed that they spent £36,000 on printing costs alone).
My Appeal against the Commission’s finding will be heard at the Central London County Court on 15th July 2019, and my legal costs to date have been generously met by donations from the public through CrowdJustice. I will never be able to match the Commission’s firepower, but I would at least like to raise enough to get the chance to clear my name from the smears against me. This is not about Leave or Remain but about the basic standards for a fair trial and level playing field. We should be encouraging, not persecuting, young activists who are the backbone of a future participating democracy.
You can support Darren by making a donation towards his legal fees.