It is a weakness in the protection of democracy in the United Kingdom that consultants and election strategists hired to support the campaigns of political candidates for office are permitted to keep their other sources of income secret. This pertains even if they progress to work in government, which they often do.
It means that no one knows who these consultancies are really working for when they support and advise the politicians depending on their support.
This failing has been thrown into stark relief by Sarawak Report’s recent revelations about the secret and illegal third party funding accepted in the United States by the most powerful agency in Britain, CT Group Limited, which is run by Boris Johnson’s key advisor Sir Lynton Crosby.
Likewise, the hidden objectives than can arise from such covert relationships have been revealed in the separately leaked ‘Project Homer“, a secret strategy proposal drawn up again by CT Group to advise Prime Minister Boris Johnson on how to curb the independence of the House of Lords.
Alongside the claimed purpose of ‘getting through a ‘People’s Brexit”, the document has exposed the motives of the tobacco industry in using a packed House of Lords to revise health legislation for its own benefit.
It is already known that CT Group, which specialises in putting politicians into power and then its former staff into their offices, has held long-term lucrative links with the global tobacco industry amongst other major corporate interests.
If up to 50 new and compliant Lords were appointed by Johnson, explains the Project Homer document, one of the bills that had so far failed to pass satisfactorily in the Lords but which could be successfully re-introduced would be the:
“Health Bill: which planned for a more laissez faire approach to tobacco manufacturers and importers [and] was defeated by 59 [votes]”
The reference appears to be to amendment 158 to the Health and Care Bill that was voted through in the Lords in April by a majority of 59 votes forcing a consultation into tighter tobacco regulation at the cost of manufacturers and importers.
This had not been planned in the original (“more laissez faire”) bill, which had already been condemned by the British Medical Association for failing to implement a promised Tobacco Control Plan, which the government had pledged to have in place by May 2021:
It is now more than two years since the Government committed to the ‘bold action’ needed to make England Smokefree by 2030 . Achieving this would be the single most important step it could take towards delivering manifesto commitments to reduce health inequality and extend healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 .
Unfortunately, the Government has still not published its new Tobacco Control Plan to deliver the Smokefree ambition, which it pledged to publish this year , nor the post-implementation review of tobacco regulations, which it was required in law to do by May 2021. [BMJ response to the Health and Care Bill, November 2021 ]
Such controls would cost the tobacco industry considerably, which the CT Group plainly aims to reverse, at the cost of lives, by passing new measures using Boris Johnson’s newly appointed compliant peers (required to sign a written undertaking they would vote as instructed in return for their titles).
It raises the question for whom does a C/T Group supported government work for, the company’s secret lobbyists or the electorate that was encouraged to vote for them thanks to C/T Group’s election tactics?
CT Group personnel, such as David Canzini who worked in Boris Johnson’s campaign and Isaac Levido, have characteristically floated from the company and into policy making jobs in the office of this prime minister and currently there is nothing in our legislation to prevent the glaring conflicts of interest this involves.
The so-called Register of Lobbyists is so toothless that the consultants who are crafting the slogans and campaigns for would-be prime ministers can claim that they are working for free; fail to register who else employs them and slide in and out of government jobs (and in and out of working alliances with each other) without breaking any rules at all.
Consider the case of Mark Fullbrook, who is presently the manager for Liz Truss’s leadership campaign, helping craft her slogans about ‘growing pies by cutting tax’ on the brink of the recession just announced by the Bank of England.
Until April this year was Fullbrook was a senior partner at CT Group.
Whilst at CT Group, Fullbrook supported the leadership bid for Boris Johnson, together with senior colleagues such as David Canzini now ensconced as a policy advisor in Number 10. This was a role that CT Group claimed they performed for free, taking a sabbatical from their employment to run Boris’s campaign. Meanwhile the company CT Group donated thousands to the campaign on top.
This claim, dubious at the time, appears even more questionable now it has emerged Fullbrook is the same CT Group partner who oversaw the consultancy’s dodgy Puerto Rico contract with the fugitive Venezuelan banker Julio Herrera Velutini, allegedly to provide election services to him.
Herrera Velutini has now been indicted in the United States for bribing the Governor of the state using CT Group’s election services as a benefit in kind.
CT Group is under no obligation to declare their commercial clients under UK law. So, if no one is entirely clear from which quarters money is flowing into Crosby and his sometime partners’ companies across the globe how can we know who may likewise be involved in funding and crafting the messaging parroted by Johnson and now Liz Truss?
Mark Fullbrook has now left his directorships at CT Group, however there is no reason to believe that he does not in fact remain closely linked to the network of connections and influence peddling around CT Group and its powerful corporate backers.
If Truss wins there is presently nothing to stop him or one of his lobbying partners from being enlisted into Downing Street just like Canzini and Levido were under Johnson before heading lucratively out again to engage with business. CT Group has an even more glaring reputation for revolving door relationships with the Liberal Party in Australia – likewise allegedly connected to promoting the interests of separate corporate clients.
So, how troubling are these connections? The CT Group is known to have had major government and corporate clients across the globe, including clients linked to Putin’s Russia and the mining giant Glencore, who have all a major interest in guiding UK policy, in pushing for the de-regulation of their businesses and in grabbing opportunities created by policies they seek to influence.
Getting their man or woman in office is the best way to influence those outcomes, so why is the lack of transparency allowed and why is a company like CT Group allowed to claim they are funding their political puppets for free when it is clear that money is pouring into their organisation from those who want to influence its successful candidates when in office?
Why are Crosby’s staff then permitted to slide in and out of Downing Street the moment an election has been won and why is his company permitted to continue to informally and secretly advise the likes of Boris Johnson on policies and indeed major constitutional gerrymandering plans, as recently revealed with the plan to stuff the House of Lords?
That the CT Group and its network of allied companies is relaxed about taking money to support politicians from secret third parties is now clear from the FBI revelations that they readily took hundreds of thousands from a foreign banker illegally seeking to influence US elections.
CT Group lied that it did not realise its consultancy work was conducted for the then Governor of Puerto Rico (which the foreigner was barred from funding) when it is now proven that they did.
So, who has really been funding CT Group to position the likes of Boris Johnson in office and who is funding Mark Fullbrook, supposedly now separated from the group, in likewise supporting Liz Truss with her slogans about ‘growing pies by cutting tax’ on the brink of a recession announced by the Bank of England?
Years after the event CT Group has been exposed for having conducted, under-cover, the largest online campaign on behalf of Brexit, funded by unknown sources, at the same time as it was managing Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.
It was just one of numerous secret campaigns waged by the lobby group which has specialised in the classic black PR tactic of setting up bogus grass roots campaigns online to influence unwitting voters of behalf of their hidden clients. These have included Saudi Arabia, anti-cycling campaigns and even Najib Razak according to belated leaks.
Despite these activities and secret clients the employees from this organisation were permitted to then follow Johnson into Downing Street to formulate decisions.
Regulations brought into being by David Cameron in 2014 were supposed to prevent such influence mongering by lobbyists. However, critics have concluded that these, if anything, have been counterproductive (they certainly did not prevent the former prime minister from engaging in a disgraceful lobbying scandal himself over Greensill).
“Only a minute fraction of lobbying activity has to be reported. Face-to-face meetings between consultants and government need to be logged but no consideration is given to any of the myriad ways in which public affairs professionals and campaigners seek to influence policy decisions beyond such meetings.” [UK Lobbying rules explained, The Conversation]
New rules need to be implemented because if another political puppet is engineered into Downing Street based on promises they plan to break whilst furthering secret corporate and political agendas democracy will be weakened further.
Voters will lose faith presenting a further factor for the campaign strategists to exploit on behalf of their paymasters against democracy and rule of law.