Johnson refuses to answer why ‘frackers, the tax avoiders and the zero-hour exploiters’ are shaping Tory policy

Boris Johnson
Fréa Lockley

As the 2019 General Election campaign gets set to begin, news has emerged that a fracking lobbyist is writing the Conservative manifesto. The same lobbying firm also represents major tax-avoiding multinationals like Amazon. So this raises concerns that these interests could well try to shape policy. But when asked about this in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Boris Johnson refused to answer.

An “outrage to democracy”

Labour MP Alan Whitehead asked Johnson directly what hope there is of limiting fracking and protecting the environment:

in light of the news that the Conservative manifesto is going to be written by a lobbyist for the fracking industry.

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Johnson spoke about fracking-related earthquakes. But he completely ignored the main point of the question.

Rachel Wolf is writing the Conservative manifesto. She’s also a founding partner, and still works for, Public First. This is a lobbying group that says helps “organisations change public policy and improve their reputations”. What this means, is that it tries to persuade “the public to support the interests of its corporate clients”.

Wolf co-founded the company with her husband James Frayne. Frayne’s also a former director of leading right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange.

As the Guardian reported, Public First lobbies ministers on behalf of Cuadrilla, a major fracking company. It also represents the Internet Association, a trade association for “leading global internet companies”. Members include Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Uber. Public First:

is attempting to influence the government’s policies on online harms, the regulation of social media and taxes on digital companies – all of which are likely to feature in some form in the Conservative manifesto.

After nine years of Conservative-led governments, the UK and UK territories now lead the world in providing havens for corporate tax avoidance.

So, as Labour’s Jon Trickett said:

If ever we needed another reminder that the Tory Party represents the privileged few, this is it.

It’s an outrage to democracy that the frackers, the tax dodgers and the zero-hour exploiters will have the biggest say when it comes to Tory policy.

Conflicts of interest?

Wolf writing the Conservative manifesto and working for Public First reportedly doesn’t break any rules. Yet, as Francis Ingham from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) said:

Communications professionals have a duty to avoid conflicts of interests. There is never an excuse. The PRCA code – to which all members are bound – is explicit in this regard.

PRCA represents many leading PR and lobbying companies, but not Public First.

The Public First website states it recruits staff:

from the highest levels of Government, the media, think tanks, campaigns, Parliament and agencies. They all recognise the power of the public in creating and shaping public policy.

This also includes former Labour MP Natascha Engel. She went on to work as the Conservative government’s fracking tsar, but was forced to quit after just six months in the post.

Engel also worked for INEOS, one of the UK’s key fracking companies. Following a Freedom of Information request from Unearthed, she:

admitted to routinely deleting correspondence and throwing away notes from meetings with fracking companies in a move that may have violated transparency requirements.

Public First promotes Engel’s recent article called Fracking: Time to get on with it? Engel also:

sits on the advisory board of the Westminster Connection (TWS), which has been described by the Sunday Times as ‘a discreet lobbying firm with Israeli links’, Chaired by Lord Stuart Polak, its clients include controversial Israeli arms firm Elbit Systems

Separate

Public First denied any links between Wolf’s political and commercial work. A spokesperson said:

Public First has partners and staff who are members of all three major political parties and of none. Rachel is assisting the Conservative party with their manifesto based on her long experience of working on Conservative policy. Her political work is wholly separate from any commercial arrangements our firm has.

The rich get richer

As Trickett noted, a Labour government gives “ordinary people a proper stake in how this country is run”. This couldn’t be further from the networks operating behind Wolf’s Tory manifesto. Calling out these webs and channels of power between environmentally destructive, tax-dodging corporations, lobby groups and the government is vital. No matter what Conservatives might promise ordinary people in this election, they ultimately only serve the rich.

Featured image via ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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