Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell on Saturday night faced claims that they were behind an attempted Blairite ‘coup’ at the campaign for a second EU referendum by leaking information damaging to its multi-millionaire backer.
Private emails seen by The Mail on Sunday reveal the plotting by the veteran Labour politicians against Roland Rudd, the powerful chairman of the People’s Vote campaign.
In one email, Mr Campbell said of the secret power struggle with Mr Rudd, who is the brother of former Tory Cabinet Minister Amber Rudd: ‘I do not see how this gets done without a public battle and it should happen soon and be fast and brutal.’
In another, former Business Secretary Lord Mandelson wrote to colleagues — including Mr Campbell: ‘I agree we need to pin down Roland’s slipperiness. To counter what he said … will require trawling through and possible exposure of private email chains. Who is going to do that?’
In one email, Alistair Campbell (pictured) said of the secret power struggle with Mr Rudd, who is the brother of former Tory Cabinet Minister Amber Rudd: ‘I do not see how this gets done without a public battle and it should happen soon and be fast and brutal’
In another, former Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson (pictured) wrote to colleagues — including Mr Campbell: ‘I agree we need to pin down Roland’s slipperiness. To counter what he said … will require trawling through and possible exposure of private email chains. Who is going to do that?’
The communications have lifted the lid on the bitter behind-the-scenes fighting at the People’s Vote about the strategic direction of the campaign, with allies of Mr Rudd claiming that Lord Mandelson and Mr Campbell, both senior advisers on the campaign, have been responsible for ‘bullying and intimidation’ in the office.
Last night, the campaign described the leak to this newspaper on the day that thousands of people marched on the capital to demand a second vote on the UK’s membership of the EU as ‘deeply unfortunate’ and ‘petty’.
When the People’s Vote group was launched last year, its stated mission was to demand a referendum on what kind of Brexit the UK wanted rather than overturn the 2016 result altogether. Since then Mr Rudd has shifted its strategy to overtly arguing for staying in the European Union.
The move has been resisted by Lord Mandelson and Mr Campbell – the architects of Tony Blair’s takeover of Labour in the 1990s – who have argued ferociously with Mr Rudd that the group should disguise its support for Remain and present its ideas in terms of ‘breaking the Brexit impasse’.
The emails were sent in August when insiders say the group mounted an unsuccessful attempt to topple Mr Rudd, who left the shared offices in Westminster but remained as chairman.
Mr Rudd became aware of their contents when they were sent to him in error.
When the People’s Vote group was launched last year, its stated mission was to demand a referendum on what kind of Brexit the UK wanted rather than overturn the 2016 result altogether. Since then Mr Roland Rudd (pictured) has shifted its strategy to overtly arguing for staying in the European Union
As the issue of a second referendum has risen up the political agenda – now backed by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and some Tory rebels – so the arguments have flared up again.
Mandelson’s allies are now setting up a splinter fundraising company in what the insiders say is ‘an attempt to cut Mr Rudd’s influence with the big donors and take over the operation’. Lord Mandelson and Mr Campbell, Mr Blair’s No 10 press spokesman, are understood to feel that they have been the victims rather than the instigators of hostile leaks from within the organisation.
But an ally of Mr Rudd hit back by saying: ‘What Mandelson’s mob are trying to do – mount a Blairite coup – is futile, based on a tired old playbook from 1997. Roland writes all the cheques and has all the vital electoral data. They need him.
‘He also thinks that they are bullies and has had concerns about their management styles for a while.’
The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this year that Mr Rudd was hosting brainstorming meetings for the campaign at his Grade I-listed, £8 million Georgian mansion in Somerset. Guests arriving at the country house enter along a carriage driveway leading to a grass turning circle. It comes with its own livestock buildings, game larder, gardener’s workshop, croquet lawn, extensive wine cellar and a staff flat for the help.
He also owns a £23 million mansion in London’s exclusive Holland Park. Mr Rudd, 57, is the son of late millionaire stockbroker Tony Rudd. After studying at Millfield public school and Oxford he joined the Financial Times, before setting up the Finsbury public relations firm. He sold his 80 per cent share in Finsbury for £40 million in 2001, and earned £5.2 million last year as its chairman. He is also a trustee of the Royal Opera House and a board member of Germany’s Bayreuth opera festival.
Last night, a People’s Vote spokesman said: ‘The People’s Vote campaign does not leak private correspondence nor engage in public battles with its members.
‘It is deeply unfortunate that emails that were inadvertently sent to Roland Rudd expressing frustration about the governance of the campaign have now been leaked.
‘On the day of mass public action for a second vote, and when the organisation is working with MPs to stop Boris Johnson from inflicting a damaging No Deal Brexit on the country, we have better things to do than comment on petty leaks.’
Mr Rudd did not respond to a request for comment.