A tactical voting website that has been blasted for giving "bogus" advice to vote Liberal Democrat in Labour/Tory marginals has links to the Liberal Democrats, VICE can reveal.
When anti-Brexit campaign group Best For Britain launched their GetVoting tactical voting website, it received a deluge of criticism for recommending voting Lib Dem in constituencies that many would assume to be on a knife-edge between Labour and the Conservatives.
The site recommends voting Lib Dem in about 180 seats, which seems like a heck of a lot considering the party had just 12 MPs elected in 2017. In comparison, another tactical voting site, Remain United, backs just 50 Lib Dems. A senior Labour party source told the Guardian the advice was "bogus".
Now, VICE can reveal the links between Best For Britain and the Lib Dems.
Best For Britain chair Naomi Smith is a long-standing Lib Dem. She stood as a Lib Dem in Westminster in 2010 and is referred to in a 2017 article on the Liberal Democrat Voice website as a "Lib Dem speaker". In May of 2019, she tweeted about voting "for my party, the Lib Dems" at the European elections in May.
There are further links between the Lib Dems and Best For Britain. The director of Best For Britain, Clive Cowdery, is a big Lib Dem donor. The register of members' financial interests shows that Cowdery made a donation of £15,250 to Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson in September. He also gave £1,500 to Swinson's leadership campaign in May, and spent £1,117.28 on a drinks reception for Swinson the same month.
According to the Electoral Commission, Best For Britain co-director and chief economist Anatole Kaletsky donated £25,050 to the Lib Dems in 2017, although this year he has only donated to UK-EU Open Policy Limited. On its website, Best For Britain describes itself as "the campaign name of UK-EU Open Policy Limited".
Critics have pointed at 2017 election results to question Best For Britain's recommendations. During the 2017 election in Kensington, Labour's Emma Dent Coad edged to victory with 16,333 votes – just 20 more votes than the Conservative candidate. The Lib Dem candidate was a distant also-ran, with around 4,724. Now, GetVoting is recommending a vote for high profile Lib Dem Sam Gyimah, suggesting he's well ahead of Labour and could beat the Conservatives with tactical votes on his side.
Chuka Umunna, another high profile candidate, is running for the Lib Dems in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency, having defected from Labour. GetVoting also recommends voting Lib Dem here, despite the fact – in 2017 – the party came a poor third, with 4,270 votes. The Tories won with 18,005 and Labour came second with 14,857.
The recommendations caused such a stir that Best for Britain chief exec Naomi Smith took to the Observer to answer the critics. She dismissed the controversy as being caused by "parts of the Labour twitterati" who "went into paranoid overdrive".
“Our mission is not to help any party. It is to stop Boris Johnson, stop the Brexit party, and – in turn – stop Brexit," Smith said. However, she didn't think it was worth disclosing her or her organisation's links to the Lib Dems.
"We are not relying on ancient data from 2017," she wrote. "Since then, politics has been turned upside down." Instead, Best for Britain is relying on MRP (multi-level regression and post-stratification), a modelling system which accurately called the 2017 election as a hung parliament when traditional polling failed.
The campaign boasts that it is using a poll of more than 46,000 voters, which "makes it more accurate than all other voting advice sites", which use constituency polls that contact around 2,000 people. However, it has been pointed out that 46,000 divided by the UK's 650 constituencies tots up to about 70 voters per constituency.
When VICE asked Best For Britain if its links to the Lib Dems could have affected its recommendations, a spokesperson said: "It's interesting that these accusations conveniently forget the chairman of Best for Britain was a minister under Gordon Brown. We are proudly cross-party.
"Our data, and therefore recommendations, are in line with publicly available constituency polls.
"We must rise above the tribalism of party politics and change the arithmetic in Parliament to stop Brexit. That's the only way to do it and we will keep fighting to make that happen."