The standoff at People’s Vote has escalated after about 40 staff called for the resignation of their chairman, Roland Rudd, who has sacked two senior executives and was planning to make a number of new appointments later on Tuesday.
The bulk of staff working on the campaign for a second referendum went to confront Rudd at a meeting in a hotel, after he fired James McGrory as campaign director and Tom Baldwin as media director over the weekend.
The staff had believed they were to meet Rudd, a City PR firm boss, in their Millbank offices in London on Tuesday morning, with McGrory and Baldwin having vowed to turn up to work as usual.
However, Rudd changed the location to the Hilton hotel next door and staff supportive of the sacked executives initially declined to attend. They later moved en masse to the Hilton, where security guards denied entry to Baldwin and McGrory.
Following the meeting with Rudd and his new acting chief executive, Patrick Heneghan, 40 staff members said they had no confidence in Rudd and called on him to quit, while three came out in favour.
McGrory, who still describes himself as director of People’s Vote, said: “We are asking Rudd and Heneghan to quit because no one – least of all the millions of people in the country who are desperate for us to succeed – can allow boardroom politics to overshadow the real politics taking place on Brexit.
“This has been a brilliant cross-party campaign and this is a crucial week in the fight to stop Boris Johnson forcing his Brexit on the people. We are ready to launch the biggest and most sophisticated tactical voting campaign this country has ever seen if there is an election.
“But Roland Rudd has chosen now to put a wrecking ball through the campaign, locked key staff out of the office and tied others up in legal threats.
“All we want to do is get back to campaigning for a People’s Vote. None of us chose to get into a fight with the Open Britain board. Instead, those seeking to disable this extraordinary campaign must now take responsibility for playing into Johnson’s hands.”
In a letter sent to Rudd on Monday night, the 40 staff told him: “As the staff of the People’s Vote campaign, we demand you allow us to continue with our work under the leadership of James and Tom. This campaign has always been about trusting the people. If you want us to succeed, you must trust us now.”
A People’s Vote source said Rudd had not wanted to be “ambushed” at the Millbank offices by people prepared to film him, but that he had waited in the hotel with tea and coffee for anyone who wanted to discuss the management changes. They said the Hilton meeting room was used regularly and the staff had been issued with “direct orders from the chief executive and chairman” to attend.
Rudd and Heneghan were expected to announce more staff appointments later on Tuesday.
One person on Rudd’s side said concerns about the management of the organisation had been fuelled by a report by some consultants last year. In the report, quotes from those who worked in the campaign included: “There are dozens of people who have not done a full day of work in weeks. You end up getting shouted at in a meeting so you just go home.”
Another read: “It’s a completely unworkable, dysfunctional campaign at the moment. I have never been part of one that has so little accountability.”
The report concluded: “The current governance model, team and culture within [People’s Vote] will need a fundamental reboot in order to win a second referendum.”
On the other side, some senior People’s Vote figures supportive of McGrory and Baldwin said the dysfunctional structure was a result of Rudd’s control over the campaign through its parent organisation, Open Britain.
One board member also disputed the idea that Rudd had been trying to improve its governance by merging it with other pro-European organisations, saying this had been the idea of the campaign’s management.
They pointed to an email to Rudd in August in which four People’s Vote constituent organisations said they wanted a “shared ownership of the campaign across all the organisations involved and accountability to its members”, and rejected Rudd’s “proposal for a new campaign controlled by Open Britain” as unacceptable.