THE VILE website at the centre of the vicious plot to smear top Tories was set up with the help of the boss of the Labour Party, the News of the World can sensationally reveal today. A new email shows that Labour’s General Secretary Ray Collins chaired a secret meeting to create the Red Rag website now ensnared in the Smeargate scandal.
The email’s existence links the dirty tricks site to the very TOP of the Labour Party. And it exposes the LIE, put out by Downing Street, and repeated by government ministers this week, that the smears project was just a minor aberration cooked up by a couple of renegades acting alone—and which would never have seen light of day.
The new email, written by Labour’s then internet campaign chief Derek Draper, PROVES that the meeting took place, reveals WHO was there, WHERE it was held and WHAT was on the agenda. It shows that Collins travelled across Westminster for a summit in the offices of trade union bigwig Charlie Whelan. Whelan, one of Gordon Brown’s closest friends and his former chief spin doctor, was described last night by a Labour insider as the Prime Minister’s “unofficial Mr Fix-It”.
Joining Collins and Whelan at the meeting were the two men whose leaked smear emails later brought the scandal to light: Damian McBride and Draper.
Also in the room was the man who was to be the public face of Red Rag, Unite press officer Andrew Dodgshon, as well as political journalist Kevin Maguire, who was there in a private capacity. News of the meeting, and the presence at it of the Labour Party’s General Secretary, will horrify and appal senior party workers and Labour MPs who have already been disgusted by the smear campaign.
The email reveals the meeting took place on December 1 last year at Unite’s London HQ, on King’s Street, Westminster, seven weeks before McBride sent an explosive email to Draper outlining “stories” for the site.
Last week, after the News of the World’s revelations about the shocking extent of the smears, Collins slammed McBride and Draper, while he avoided mentioning his own role in the scandal.
Collins carefully followed a line taken by Derek Draper, husband of GMTV’s Kate Garraway, and McBride that they acted alone. Draper claimed: “The idea that it was a big project orchestrated in Downing Street is ridiculous.”
However, our revelations show that Collins knew about the Red Rag site more than four months ago and did NOTHING to stop it—in fact he did the opposite. Collins also tried to distance himself from Draper last week.
“I want to reiterate that Derek Draper does not hold a position or role with the Labour Party and this will remain the case,” he said. Yet the General Secretary himself recruited Draper last year to try to set up a unit inside the Labour Party to attack the Tories using the internet.
We can reveal that despite internal opposition Collins granted Draper a pass to Labour Party HQ in Westminster, and even allowed him a Labour Party email account. Both were quietly rescinded by Collins this week after furious protests from staff following our Smeargate revelations.
The Red Rag site was borne out out of those foundations, and was set up on November 4, 2008, weeks before the secret meeting. A shocked Labour party insider told us: “It is devastating that Collins was there. It was a meeting called to set up, run and work out how to finance the Red Rag site. “It’s no coincidence either that it wasn’t held at Labour Party HQ, or that it was at Charlie Whelan’s offices in Unite. Whelan is back as Gordon Brown's unofficial Mr Fix-it, and he’s now so powerful that he’s effectively running the party. If anyone in the party was still daft enough to believe the Downing Street line about this being minor, this email finally exposes that lie." Whelan was copied in to the vile emails between McBride and Draper and his role in the meeting at the Unite HQ raises further questions about how closely the union was involved in the dirty tricks campaign.
He is political director of Unite, which has two million members. It is now one of the largest donor to the Labour Party, and it’s cash is effectively paying the near-bankrupt party’s wages as it struggles to manage debts topping £16million.
Last night Collins, himself a former assistant general secretary of Unite, admitted he attended the Red Rag website meeting but insisted he did not know about the McBride smears. He told us: “I have had no knowledge whatsoever of any smears and found the stories and reports of the last week absolutely disgusting.
“I did attend a meeting at the Unite Head Office on December 1 to discuss online digital campaigning and how we could support and encourage left of centre websites and bloggers.
“This meeting was not about scurrilous rumour, personal attacks or smears as I would have been furious that such things could be seen as legitimate tools of political debate.”
Oh dear. It's now clear why Collins went to such great lengths to diss Draper last week and to distance himself from him.
The meeting was held on December 1st, only a fortnight after Derek Draper had lunch with the Prime Minister at Chequers. Are we really supposed to believe that none of this was discussed at that lunch?
I very much look forward to Kevin Maguire's next blog or Mirror column. Presumably he will be explaining his role at this meeting and what his role in the Red Rag Website was to be. the NOTW story says he was attending the meeting "in a private capacity". Oh yeah? Perhaps that's why he now feels compromised by the whole thing and has so far failed to explain why he was copied in on the "dirty" emails.