On Monday, VICE published an article I had written about sneaking into the launch event of Activate, the independent Tory youth group run by a 37-year-old Conservative campaign manager and councillor.
Sam Ancliff, the charismatic face of Activate's anarcho-communist faction, promptly sent a strongly worded email to VICE's pitch inbox, before also publicly tweeting it at us. It wasn't initially obvious whether the email was intended as an editorial pitch or a legal threat, but given Sam’s achievements as campaigns director of Activate we considered it unlikely that he would be planning a change of careers.
I can only imagine the hurt I must have caused Sam, to force him to repeat one-by-one all the accusations we levelled against him and his organisation. I can only imagine how hard he was puffing on The Beast, his high-powered vape, as he angrily highlighted the email's final sentence and coloured it in red.
With that in mind, I would like to offer Sam, his vape and the entire Activate team my full and sincere apology. Below is the letter in full, and my responses/tearful apologies are in bold:
Subj: Notice of factually incorrect and slanderous article.
Dear Editor, I draw your attention to an article written by Ben Van Der Merwe titled "We Snuck Into the "Tory Momentum" Re-Launch Party" linked as follows: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/7xde7g/we-snuck-into-the-tory-momentum-re-launch-party.
This article has a number of factually incorrect and slanderous items as detailed below, and I am giving 24 hours for the items to be removed or the article to be taken down before further action is taken. 1. "£500 joining fee were widely ridiculed" – Membership has never cost £500 and has always been £10 per annum. The implication of otherwise is a lie.
I apologise for being misled by media coverage outlining the fact membership cost up to £500 for over-25s, and by the Times article headlined, "Tory rival for Momentum is ridiculed over £500 fee." I should have known better to trust the Murdoch press, given their anti-Conservative bias.
2. "showing members of the group joking about 'gassing chavs'." – No member of Activate past or present ever took part in that Conversation, this is slanderous.
I apologise for suggesting that "a leaked WhatsApp transcript showed members of the group joking about 'gassing chavs'." As Sam stated in his email, "no member of Activate past or present ever took part in that conversation". And as Activate’s spokesperson said at the time, "we are working on ensuring that the people in question are removed from the group".
The fact that Activate’s spokesperson implied that participants in the chat were Activate members and that two members of the national committee resigned on the day the chat was leaked is irrelevant. I should not have implied otherwise.
3. "Activate lost control of their old Twitter handle to a parody account," – We changed our twitter handle, we never "lost control" as is implied here.
They lost control of it in the sense that they changed to a new one, and someone else adopted the old one.
4. "the national committee even included a female member, though this proved short-lived." – this is also a lie, our National Committee currently has three female members out of the total 9.
I wrote that Activate formerly had just one woman on their national committee, who was soon let go. While this was accurate in February, I should have known better than to assume I could keep pace with the high-octane world of Conservative youth politics.
Sam has made clear in his email that there are now a total of "three females" on the nine-person national committee. The national committee posed for a Twitter photo on the night, and as this included no women except a Tory councillor I wrongly assumed that no women were on the committee.
Furthermore, I was wrong to make note of the fact that there were only two women under the age of 50 at the event. Activate made a laudable effort through their digital marketing to emphasise that "females" would be welcome at the event, and I’m confident that there were many women who simply were unable to come because of the weather.
5. "only 28 people turned up to the launch event" – Attendance was 36 according to the entry register.
I counted 28 at the peak of the evening, though it is possible eight others came and left or were in the toilet when I counted. I cannot apologise profusely enough.
6. "fired a shot in anger as a private in Afghanistan." – I was never a Private, but a Rifleman.
I would also like to extend a personal apology to Sam, the fresh-faced Tory Che Guevara, for misrepresenting the nature of his military service. Sam was not a Private, as I was informed by a member of the National Committee, but a Rifleman. A Rifleman may have the same rank as a Private, but they form part of the Rifles, described by the British Army as an "exciting regiment". While that means they are basically the same thing, this is an important distinction that I can only apologise for failing to make.
7. "I don't really know," he replied. "I sort of just knew some of the people who set it up, and they said this role needed filling." – Those words were never uttered.
That was certainly my recollection.
8. "The reception finished an hour earlier than advertised, but in the end, it felt long enough." – The event closed as advertised, at midnight, with last orders being at 11. In fact, guests were present after midnight.
Despite Rifleman Sam’s assertions in the smoking area before I left, he assures me that he did, in fact, stay until midnight. Moreover, Sam assures me that the event was such a hit and the crowd so insatiable that several members even stayed beyond the official curfew of the venue.
I reiterate that the slanderous items and factual inaccuracies or the entire article are to be removed within 24 hours or further legal action will be pursued.
Director of Campaigning
I can only hope that my sincere apology will allow time to erase this stain upon my career, and upon the journalistic profession as a whole.