Establishment politicians and journalists are supposed to live in fear of it. The truth is quite different.
It’s nearly twenty years since Paul Staines started the blog after going bankrupt. It was one of many DIY ragers in the days of Livejournal and Typepad.
But Guido Fawkes isn’t just any old blog. It’s a right-wing multimedia operation, though it often recirculates and repurposes old news.
Guido Fawkes began as a one-man show before developing into something more varied and complex. It’s now a core part of the UK media.
We’re supposed to believe the man behind its cheeky URL, order-order.com, is the kind of anti-establishment renegade who wouldn’t hesitate to blow up Parliament.
Except somehow, he never does.
Staines often goes after the Conservative Party, but always from the right.
His favourite targets are Labour, the left and anyone who might be perceived as on the side of the poor and the downtrodden.
In short, Guido Fawkes is a foe to anyone who opposes the status quo. Even the tamed Labour today, or the ‘90s Blair government, is too leftist for him.
Meet the Real Guido
Few people can say they’ve survived being gored by a bull in Pamplona or gambled away £20,000 in twenty minutes. Paul Staines can.
Even fewer people can say they’ve helped raise funds for anti-Communist death squads. Paul Staines can.
It’s fair to say that Paul Staines is not a garden-variety media entrepreneur.
A former broker who made a killing in the dot-com boom but lost out big when the bubble burst, his true calling was always fighting on the side of reaction.
Staines comes out of the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s. Those were the days when Tory students were calling for Nelson Mandela to be hanged.
He says he never wore the badge calling for Mandela’s execution but that he had friends who certainly did.
Staines briefly worked for the Adam Smith Institute in the mid-1980s and met right-wing journalist Alfred Sherman through his son Gideon.
Although Staines was a member of the Social Democratic Party for a time, his politics were aligned with the ultra-right of libertarian Toryism.
He was also willing to collaborate with the far right against the left.
Staines reached out to the local British National Party branch hoping to get its knuckle-dragging goons to break up left-wing meetings at Hull University.
Fortunately, this did not happen, and the story got out to the local press.
Guido Fawkes’ founder went to work with maverick political operative David Hart, who was raising funds for anti-Communist death squads in Angola and Nicaragua: UNITA and the Contras.
Naturally, Staines found it fun traveling far and wide to support such noble causes.
“I don’t have any problem with raising money to kill Communists,” he told The Guardian.
David Hart ran the Committee for a Free Britain and employed Staines as an editor of British Briefing. This was a monthly newsletter analysing the activities of the radical left for a right-wing audience.
During this time, Hart also helped to organise the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). The union aimed to divide the mineworkers’ movement and break the strike.
Hart’s newsletter may have been a slightly comical affair, but its readership included many British and American politicians.
It’s not hard to see how the time Staines spent working on British Briefing feeds directly into his blogging in later life.
Young Staines was a hedonistic anarcho-capitalist. He would later describe his politics as “Thatcher on drugs”.
He loves bragging about his 18 months promoting raves and the spectacular fun of LSD and MDMA.
Staines was no social conservative in his younger days, though he later became, in his own words, a pragmatic libertarian.
His pragmatism saw him back Brexit and smear Corbyn.
Enter Guido Fawkes
It all started with just one man writing a blog. First set up in 2004, the site morphed into a lucrative and influential multimedia enterprise.
Just two years later, Guido Fawkes was listed as one of the top political websites in the UK.
Guido Fawkes broke through during the 2005 general election when New Labour was running some questionable posters of Conservative leader Michael Howard.
It compared the poster campaign to Antisemitic propaganda from the 1930s.
This is all forgotten now. The posters depicting Howard as a puppeteer and even as a pig were eventually withdrawn.
But not before Alastair Campbell told journalists asking him about it to “fuck off”.
When Guido Fawkes celebrated its 10th anniversary, Conservative politicians came to the party, and David Cameron recorded a special message for the event.
Half the cabinet was present, as well as UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Of course, Boris Johnson was present and described the website as the “dung that sustains the rosebush of British democracy”.
This was a display of establishment fawning that no other website or blog in the country has ever received.
‘Guidoisation’ is no joke. Nearly two decades since it launched, Guido Fawkes has embedded itself in networks of influence spanning the media, the think tank world and the political class.
Today, Guido Fawkes has reporters hanging out in Westminster bars trying to snare disgruntled special advisers to source stories.
This is when they aren’t trawling the Internet for dirt on the favourite enemy of the hour.
Guido Fawkes is irredeemably grotesque, but its coverage is short and blunt.
It delivers what its readers want: a mixture of salacious gossip, general spite, red-baiting and sexual tittle-tattle.
It’s not the aesthetics that bring people to this site. The website’s content is as rough and crude as its format and style.
Guido Fawkes still looks like its last redesign was in 2010, proof that right-wingers prefer to look as old as their archaic politics.
Much like the tabloids, the conservative media provides its audience with titillation in the form of regular features such as Totty Watch.
Unsurprisingly the combination of ‘totty’ and right-wing populism appeals to a very niche audience.
As Richard Seymour found in his 2015 review of Guido Fawkes, women who stumble into the fray and protest this sexism have been told they should have their mouths “sewn up”, that they should be “circumcised” or even “stoned to death”.
There is a reason the website prefers to keep its comment section closed on certain articles these days. The editors don’t want to face libel claims over their paleolithic readers’ thoughtful asides.
And much like tabloids, Guido Fawkes is prone to mischievous stunts. This includes a ‘tank protest’ against the BBC decision to finally sack Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson in 2015 after he reportedly punched a producer over a steak.
Harry Cole got the publicity Staines wanted by riding the vehicle through Central London. Staines himself was soon on BBC News calling for Clarkson to be reinstated.
The tank in question was actually a glorified armoured vehicle that they called a tank, and the media lapped it up.
A large part of the success of Guido Fawkes was the way Staines courted the rest of the press.
Far from an opponent of the mainstream media, Staines was out to integrate his right-wing operation into its ecology.
Guido Fawkes succeeded thanks to his connections and ruthless business savvy.
Having cultivated a large audience, Guido Fawkes makes most of its money from advertising revenue.
This is no small feat, given the decline of online advertising. Its brand loyalty is still profitable, and right-wing readers don’t employ ad blockers the way leftists do.
The Fawkes servers are strategically based in the United States to help safeguard the website against British libel claims.
Meanwhile, Staines lives in Ireland and flies into London every week for work.
The publishing company behind the website, Global & General Nominees Limited, is registered in the tax haven of Saint Kitt and Nevis.
Staines claims this strategic location is part of his “litigation shield”.
If you want to pursue a lawsuit against a company or individual in Saint Kitt and Nevis, you have to be willing to put a hefty deposit down with the courts.
This is another incentive not to go after Staines for anything Guido Fawkes publishes.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Steve Bannon was interested in buying Guido Fawkes.
Staines claims they couldn’t agree on pricing, and he was never sure if Bannon was talking in pounds or dollars.
In many ways, Guido Fawkes has achieved the same as Bannon’s former abode Breitbart, in the US.
Guido Fawkes built a large and dedicated following it lends to political causes it cares about. In some ways, it’s more successful than its American antecedent.
The Westminster political class is smaller and more vulnerable to a website like order-order.com compared to the US elite.
Breitbart’s moment may have passed, whereas Guido Fawkes has staying power.
This is partly thanks to its origins as a blog, which has given it an especially helpful personal touch.
Blogging is all about the sense of an online community. It’s about personalities and the people who follow them, and that still matters.
Guido Fawkes has always been about being a part of a milieu, however tenuous. It was an early influencer media, where everyone follows characters who share life hacks.
The difference is that Guido Fawkes hacks its audience for a right-wing pseudo-rebellion that favours the status quo and far worse.
We can thank Staines for making the British media even more nasty and vulgar than it was before 2004.
Photograph courtesy of Liberal Democrats. Published under a Creative Commons license.