Follow-up research in the so-called ‘Centre for Open Politics’ has revealed that one of its founder members, Harry Cole, a Vice President of Conservative Future Scotland, was found to have operated an anonymous attack blog during his campaign for President of Edinburgh University Students Association, earlier this year.
In February, EUSA’s official newspaper, The Journal, reported that members of Cole’s campaign team were behind the anonymous blog, EUSAless, which is currently offline and sports only the following message:
eusaless has been taken down for legal reasons concerning anonymous comments…
…guess big brother was watching you after all.
(Correction – EUSA Official Newspaper is called ‘The Student’ – an easy enough mistake to make given that it’s URL http://studentnewspaper.org/ currently leads to a ‘site down for maintenance message’)
The report noted that:
Alastair Sloan, press officer and spokesperson for Harry Cole’s campaign, has been secretly running the anonymous blog, alongside several other contributors close to Mr Cole, since November 2007.
In that time, EUSAless has been particularly influential in undermining public opinion of EUSA sabbatical officers Josh MacAlister, Tom French and Gordon Aikman while attacking Mr Cole’s political rivals.
The investigation prompted Cole to release a statement apologising for misleading voters and admitting to “having influence on [EUSAless’s] direction” before conceding that some may see it “as a campaign tool.” In this statement, he claimed to have worked with the people behind EUSAless “in the past,” however, when pressed by The Journal, he was forced to admit that current members of his campaign team were writing the blog.
The Journal also notes that on two occasions, EUSAless had specifically denied that it had an association with Cole’s campaign:
In an entry dated 12 December 2007, it denies suggestions that Mr Cole was involved with the blog, while another post, dated 5 February 2008, attempts to imply that Mr Sloan also had no involvement.
And, to add the general air of dishonesty and hypocrisy surrounding Cole’s involvement with EUSAless, the report also notes that a mere two weeks prior to his campaign being outed as having been behind the blog, Cole was reported in The Journal as encouraging his rivals to sign up to a ‘clean campaign pledge’, while noting that another candidate, Nick Ward, had specifically asked Cole about EUSAless:
“At the start, Adam [Ramsay], Harry and myself signed a pledge with one of the points being that we have no part in any outside websites. We asked him explicitly about EUSAless and he put his hands up and said he had nothing to do with it. He was lying to us.”
In trying to explain their actions at the time, Cole told the The Journal that:
“EUSAless existed to gauge reactions and gauge opinions. In order to get attention it had to be controversial. But it was a monster that was unleashed and grew to be bigger than anyone’s wildest comprehension; that tapped into a general unrest that’s really out there.
“It was never meant to be a campaign tool; it was giving voice to those who want change in EUSA.”
Cole’s press officer, Alastair Sloan, also provided this self-serving justification on broadly the same theme:
“EUSAless was set up as a research project to gauge students’ opinions and to work out solutions to EUSA’s problems. From the start it was against EUSA being run by a small clique of people that see EUSA as ‘their’ students association.”
“After Harry decided he was going to run, we couldn’t reveal ourselves as being behind EUSAless as that would nullify any impact it had.”
I must admit that ‘ a research project to gauge student’s opinion’ is much the most creative attempt at justifying an attack blog that ran smears against political opponents that I’ve seen, even if it is bullshit!
In a follow-up response to the The Journal’s report, Cole went on to state:
I am not ashamed because we had some great coups throughout EUSAless. We exposed a Vice-President for threatening to ban Student newspaper from campus, we exposed another Vice-President for condoning cheating at a society event, we championed free speech in calling for this newspaper to be distributed on campus (something which is now a reality), and one of our bloggers initiated the infamous “Schoolgate” scandal, which unwittingly exposed Nick Ward trying to bring class prejudice into this election.
Before taking a leaf out of Guido’s book with this observation:
Some if it was a bit tabloid, perhaps a little harsh on the individuals involved, but at the end of the day our work got over 3,500 students interested in EUSA. That statistic I am immensely proud of.
The 3,500 students referred to here amount to the estimated peak readership of EUSAless which, as anyone with any experience of right-wing bloggers and stat-porn should know, is a figure that has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
Clearly, having now been exposed, with his campaign team, as having run and anonymous attack blog, Guidi-wannabe Cole’s claim to advocate ‘openness and transparency’ in politics has been exposed as a complete and utter sham and his ‘Centre for Open Politics’ can, therefore, have no credibility whatsoever.
Tim Ireland has done his usual sterling job of rooting out deleted material and turned up this example of EUSAless’s content, from an article posted on 12 December 2007 under the title ‘Dirty Tricks’…
“First of all apologies for the lack of activity on the EUSA-less blog, exams etc have been getting the better of all of us. But just when we thought the term had ended without another EUSA-less scandal, a chap called Harry Cole got in touch. Apparently he’s been accused of writing this blog (he doesn’t!) on the grounds that’s he’s allegedly running for president in February. Harry contacted us by email with some worrying allegations. According to him, mysterious creatures of the night have been threatening him by phone. Allegedly, at 2am last Wednesday morning, his phone went off with a private number, and a voice saying “Don’t mess with what you don’t know”. A similar phone call happened at 12.30pm on Thursday. Harry refused to comment on whether he was actually running or not. In a statement to EUSA-less he said he was humbled by the number of people who have got in touch urging him to do so. Pretty dirty tricks in any case. Harry’s asked that we implore whoever was behind those calls to stop, otherwise the police may have to get involved. Tut tut whoever you are…”
Also worth noting is another article from The Journal, written by the then outgoing president of EUSA, Tim Goodwin…
The one thing they should be able to count on, and the one thing that EUSA elections have always seemed to have on their side, is that the candidates will not be the ones dishing out the dirt. Kissenger is regularly misquoted as calling student politics vicious, but for the most part, we’ve managed to avoid this.
My worries are that this may all be allowed to change. The now infamous hate-rag (or should that be hate-blog?) EUSAless seems to be going out of its way to bring an air of sleaze, slander, and downright abuse to this year’s election. Those commenting on the blog are amongst the worst culprits (one has even gone as far as criticising Nick Ward’s candidacy on the basis of his sexuality) although the blog itself is usually much too quick to substitute exciting stories for truth, and is entirely unencumbered by fact.
Mmm… where have I heard that routine before?
Harry Cole, one of our presidential hopefuls, has called all candidates to sign a ‘clean campaign pledge’ he is drawing up. But how pure are his motives? As a Conservative, is he really in this for students, or is there an element of Labour-bashing? He claims not, but I have to wonder when he tells me that one of the biggest problems with EUSA is the fact that the current President has been a supporter of Tony Blair and then produces a video which bashes him as old and stale.
Right… so Harry the Hypocrite actually drew up the ‘clean campaign pledge’ while at the same time he and his campaign team were covertly involved in the running of a smear blog – and now he’s trying to convince people that he advocates openness and transparency in political life, eh?
Mmm, with an honesty problem of that magnitude, maybe Harry might be better off asking Nadine Dorries for a job – they do seem made for each other.
It is most remiss of my not to introduce you all to Harry visually, so here he is doing his best to emulate Bojo’s patented dishevelled look…