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

Boris Johnson
Support us and go ad-free

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.

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:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

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

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us