Tufton Street Linked Donors Have Given £630,000 to the Conservatives Since Sunak Became Prime Minister

Financial, ideological and senior staff ties are still channelling the interests of opaquely funded think tanks into the heart of government.
55 Tufton Street. Credit: R4vi, CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Conservative Party has received in excess of £600,000 since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister from four board members at leading Tufton Street ‘think tanks’, a new DeSmog analysis shows.

The data also shows that free market groups based in Tufton Street, Westminster, have retained significant influence in Sunak’s administration. More than half a dozen Tufton Street alumni currently serve as special advisers to the government, while seven ministers have appeared at events hosted by Tufton Street groups since Sunak became prime minister in October. 

These groups have often acted as a blocker to climate action. All are known for their anti-big-state and pro-fracking views, while their anti-green stances range from opposition to state-led climate intervention to active climate science denial. Previous reports indicate that Tufton Street groups have received substantial funds from organisations that support climate science denial in the past decade, with some donations provided directly by fossil fuel firms.

The joint-largest donation to the Conservatives during this period was made by Graham Edwards, a board member at the influential Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). He gave £500,000 in December 2022 – the same month that he was appointed as Tory treasurer, responsible for party fundraising.

Other CPS board members – Lord Michael Spencer and Lord Anthony Bamford – have also donated £100,000 and £10,000 to the party respectively since Sunak became prime minister. Lord Spencer donated via his family holding company, IPGL, while Lord Bamford’s donation is linked to his construction conglomerate, JCB.

As revealed by DeSmog this week, a firm owned by a director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) – one of the UK’s principal climate science denial groups – also donated £20,000 in March to House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and Conservative MP Liam Fox. 

The CPS, which is based out of 57 Tufton Street, is a leading member of the network. This alliance of free market think tanks and lobby groups catapulted into public consciousness last autumn for its outsized influence over former Prime Minister Liz Truss and ex-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, whose ‘mini budget’ on 23 September 2022 caused market panic and a dramatic fall in the value of the pound. 

The funding of Tufton Street groups is notoriously opaque. Every single one of its members was given the lowest transparency rating – E – by openDemocracy’s ‘Who Funds You?’ 2022 report into think tanks. Tufton Street groups have earned £6 million collectively in their latest accounting periods.

“It’s time to kick toxic fossil fuel interests out of politics once and for all,” Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, told DeSmog. “This government’s murky ties to Tufton Street have barely diminished since Liz Truss’s economy-wrecking mini budget fiasco. When we face a rapidly closing window of opportunity to tackle the climate emergency, there are still countless climate-denying and delaying influences right at the heart of government.”

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, added that, “The democratic deficit in our politics is laid bare, by an unelected prime minister granting more political access to dark-money funded think tanks than most members of the public could ever dream of.”

Fracking Hell

The enduring influence of these groups means that discredited ideas such as fracking for shale gas are still circulating in the corridors of power.

The Tufton Street network attempts to influence Westminster – in particular the policies of the Conservative Party – by producing reports, appearing regularly in the media, as well as holding regular meetings with ministers and their staff (who are often graduates of these think tanks). 

All of the groups belonging to the network are libertarian, meaning that they advocate for a smaller state, lower taxes, and fewer regulations. Their ideas often dovetail with the interests of corporations, including those with a stake in carbon-intensive industries.

Tufton Street groups all appear to support the controversial practice of fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of fluid to recover gas and oil from shale rock.

Aside from the pollution caused by burning shale gas, fracking is environmentally controversial due to its triggering of earth tremors, and the vast amount of water that it uses. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee – a body of MPs that advises the government on climate matters – concluded in 2019 that fracking was incompatible with the UK’s climate goals.

Since then, there has been a moratorium on fracking, with only a temporary lifting of the ban during Liz Truss’s short-lived tenure in 10 Downing Street – reinstated by her successor Sunak. 

Despite this, fracking appears to still be universally popular among the Tufton Street network. In response to the release of the government’s new “energy security” strategy in April 2022, the CPS included fracking in a list of “significant missed opportunities” by the government, along with onshore wind and home insulation.

This followed years of lobbying from the CPS on the subject, including a report in December 2013 entitled, “Why every serious environmentalist should favour fracking”. 

Adam Memon, a former senior staff member at the CPS and a vocal fracking advocate, is now an adviser to Sunak’s Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. Memon was hired as a special adviser to the Treasury in 2022, having served as the CPS’s Head of Economic Research from 2014 to 2015. In 2014, Memon co-authored a report entitled ‘Britain’s deteriorating energy security and why we must frack’, a conviction he re-asserted in a 2015 report calling for fracking as a way to boost the UK’s economic productivity. 

Fellow CPS-linked government advisers include Robyn Staveley, a former Head of Communications at the think tank, who now advises Grant Shapps, Secretary for Energy Security and Net Zero. 

Fellow former CPS Head of Communications Callum Price now advises Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, while former CPS Head of Welfare and Opportunity, James Heywood, is an adviser to Department of Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride. Price formerly worked for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), both of which are part of the Tufton Street network.

“It’s deeply concerning that Downing Street’s doors are open to fracking enthusiasts,” Good Law Project Executive Director Jolyon Maugham told DeSmog.

“Tufton Street’s lobby groups and right-wing think tanks are strengthening their malign grip on Rishi Sunak’s Government. We have been taking legal action to shed light on the cronyism behind its network – including undisclosed donors, misinformation, astro-turfing and lobbying.”

A CPS spokesperson told DeSmog that the organisation “has in recent years been one of most prominent champions of free-market environmentalism, with a dedicated workstream on net zero which has included work on carbon taxes, emissions offshoring, the hydrogen revolution, clean air zones, green tech and more.

“With regards to transparency, as we have explained to openDemocracy, we declare all funding received for individual reports in the relevant paper. We have consistently argued in those reports for market-friendly solutions to cutting carbon emissions and making Britain greener, and will continue to do so.”

None of the other cited organisations responded to DeSmog’s request for comment. Neither the Conservative Party nor the government offered a comment.

A Barrier to Climate Action

The views of former CPS staffers Staveley, Price, and Heywood, who are now advising Sunak’s government, towards fracking and climate change are unknown. And the CPS has authored a number of reports recently that have in principle supported the UK’s 2050 net zero goal and climate action in general. 

But CPS director Robert Colvile – co-author of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto – wrote an article for The Times in January 2020 that criticised government intervention as a means of delivering net zero. “Any serious effort will be beset by vested interests – both people pleading for money for their pet projects, and the ‘green blob’ seeking to lure the government into ever more interfering, meddling, regulating and taxing in the name of saving the planet,” he said. 

This strain of thought was reflected by Truss in a speech to the Heritage Foundation last week, in which the former Prime Minister claimed that, “The left have weaponised people’s concerns about the economy and environment using terms like ‘fuel poverty’ and the ‘climate emergency’ to justify policies which are anti-growth and socialist”.

Yet, the evidence for the effectiveness of free markets, without government interference, in achieving climate goals is markedly absent. The epicentre of the free market, the banking sector, has provided $673 billion in fossil fuel financing during the last year alone, and $1.7 trillion since the Paris Agreement was signed. 

And big companies are not faring any better. The latest progress report from Climate Action 100+, an investor-led initiative to encourage the world’s most polluting companies to clean up, found that just 10 percent had policies that were consistent with a 1.5°C-warmed world, concluding that “real world activities do not yet demonstrate any meaningful shifts in business models to align with the Paris Agreement.”

The UK’s net zero policies have already faced criticism for failing to keep pace with the required speed of change. During a day of announcements on green initiatives and energy security in late March, Sunak’s government announced plans to loosen restrictions on oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. It said “we remain absolutely committed to maximising the vital production of UK oil and gas as the North Sea basin declines”, despite the International Energy Association’s finding that any new fossil fuel development will tip the world into dangerous levels of global warming.

Five ministers have attended CPS events since Sunak took the helm, with three ministers, including senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove, attending its ‘Margaret Thatcher conference on growth’ in November. Two ministers, Minister of State for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, have also contributed to CPS reports during this period.

Post-Brexit Influence

The CPS appears to have replaced the IEA as the most influential Tufton Street think tank within government, which enjoyed untrammelled access to Liz Truss’ government.

In 2011, just a year after entering parliament, Truss founded the ‘Free Enterprise Group of backbench Conservative MPs described as the “parliamentary wing” of the IEA. 

IEA Director General Mark Littlewood told Politico that Truss had spoken at IEA events more than “any other politician over the past 12 years” and, on the day of the mini budget, former Downing Street adviser Tim Montgomerie wrote: “A massive moment for [the IEA]. They’ve been advocating these policies for years. They incubated Truss and Kwarteng during their early years as MPs. Britain is now their laboratory.”

However, the fallout of the mini budget and Truss’s political demise has been accompanied by the waning influence of the IEA in government. The think tank has hosted only one Westminster event since Sunak became prime minister, while rumours abound that Truss “has been instructed by free-market champions to get out and resurrect her desiccated standing. Not for her own benefit. But for the ideas whose reputation her incompetence soiled,” as reported in the New Statesman’s Morning Call newsletter. 

However, the IEA does still retain a foothold. A small but significant body of supporters within Sunak’s administration include one of the Prime Minister’s core advisers, Nerissa Chesterfield, his Deputy Director of Communications and Press Secretary, who served as the Head of Communications at the IEA from 2015 to 2019, when she was hired by Truss.  

The former Head of Regulatory Affairs at the IEA, Victoria Hewson, is also now an adviser to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and to the Northern Ireland Office. 

The IEA has called for the fracking ban to be overturned and has advocated for the government to approve the opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria, while senior IEA figures – including Mark Littlewood – have called on ministers to scrap its net zero emissions target. As previously revealed by DeSmog, the IEA has ties to the GWPF, and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a group of backbench Conservative MPs, including former government ministers, which opposes many of the government’s net zero policies.

The IEA’s influence now appears to be concentrated in the sphere of post-Brexit regulations and international trade. 

IEA Trade Fellow Shanker Singham – reportedly known in Westminster as the “Brexiteers’ brain”, due to his influence over senior pro-Brexit figures – still advises several official bodies on trade policy. 

Singham is the policy lead of the Trader Support Service Consortium – a private enterprise that  is helping to deliver the government’s implementation of post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland. The consortium was awarded a three-year contract in December 2020 with Singham’s firm, Competere, publicly listed as one of its partners. 

Singham is also a member of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which scrutinises the government’s post-Brexit free trade agreements and advises Parliament on its alignment with statutory protections for UK animal and plant health, animal welfare, and the environment.

On his personal website, Singham further claims that he is an adviser to the Department of International Trade Thematic Working Group on Technical Barriers to Trade. 

Sunak’s administration’s strong support for ‘freeports’ –  enclaves within which regulations and taxes are reduced, theoretically to encourage private innovation – speaks to Singham’s pervasive influence on trade policy.

Singham has been a prominent advocate for freeports for over a decade, credited with encouraging the government to adopt the idea while he was a Brexit adviser to Truss during her time as International Trade Secretary from 2019 to 2021. 

“Evidence from freeports in other countries demonstrates that lax application processes, regulation, poor enforcement and opaque customs processes have led to serious environmental degradation,” the campaign group Countryside and Wildlife link told MPs in 2020. 

Yet, the UK government plans on creating 12 freeports across the UK and Sunak has promised that they will create jobs and boost investment – having himself authored a report for the CPS in 2016 extolling their virtues. 

The government’s freeports agenda is an area in which figures from across Tufton Street are able to wield their influence. First announced in September 2019, the Freeports Advisory Council has advised the government on the establishment of these low-regulation zones.

The Council’s members have included Tom Clougherty, Research Director and Head of Tax at the CPS, and Eamonn Butler, co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) – another group in the Tufton Street network. 

Clougherty has backed fracking and wrote an article on economic growth in November 2022 stating that “it is our planning system, our addiction to ‘consultation’, and our ever-burgeoning environmental bureaucracy that is holding development back”. 

A former Managing Editor of the Reason Foundation, a US-based libertarian group that has in the past denied climate science, Clougherty is also a former Senior Editor at the Cato Institute, founded and funded by members of the fossil-fuel-financed Koch family.

Like others in the Tufton Street network, Butler is similarly a supporter of fracking and has accused Extinction Rebellion of committing “acts of violence” against the British people. 

Other Tufton Street allies also advise the government on wider international trade matters. As of November, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was listed as a member of the government’s Board of Trade, which advises on “the UK’s global trade and investment agenda”. Abbott simultaneously holds a role on the board of the GWPF.

In September 2022, Net Zero Watch – the GWPF’s campaigning arm – published a report which stated that “changing atmospheric carbon dioxide has minimal impact on Earth’s temperature and climate”, meaning that “efforts to decarbonise in the hope of affecting global temperatures will be in vain”.

Abbott is joined on the Board of Trade by Lord Daniel Hannan, President of the Institute for Free Trade (IFT), a libertarian think tank formerly based out of 57 Tufton Street. Abbott is also on the International Advisory Board of the IFT. 

Though it now appears to be recruiting new members, the government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group was until recently advised by Colvile from the CPS, Littlewood from the IEA, and Matt Kilcoyne, a former director at the IFT and ASI. 

“The cost of living crisis has arisen precisely because the UK is run by a tightly-knit network representing the 1 percent. From the collapse of the NHS, to spiralling food and energy poverty, to a record number of billionaires being created, the government’s choices are clearly benefiting the few to the detriment of the many,” said Labour MP Clive Lewis.

Support from Fossil-Fuel Interests 

The lack of financial transparency among Tufton Street groups makes it impossible to pin down  the source of all their income. However, from what we know, some of these organisations have received substantial funds in recent years from polluting interests and those who support climate science denial.  

According to openDemocracy, the US fundraising arms of Conservative-linked think tanks – including organisations belonging to the Tufton Street network – received $5.4 million from 2012 to 2022 from donors who separately donated a combined $584 million to a network of organisations promoting climate denial in the US between 2003 to 2018. 

The American Friends of the IEA – which channels donations to the UK think tank – received a $50,000 donation from ExxonMobil in 2004, while the IEA has directly received donations from BP every year from 1967 to at least 2018.

As for the CPS, the group’s latest accounts – for the period up to September 2022 – state that its directors donated £1.02 million to the company during the year. Turnover was £650,000 during the year and ‘other operating income’ hit £1.5 million, meaning that the CPS board contributed nearly half (47%) of the think tank’s income during the year.  

While we can’t know which board members have been donating to the CPS, Lord Spencer and Lord Bamford are among the individuals and firms with polluting interests that donated £3.5 million to the Conservatives in 2022, as revealed by DeSmog last month. Lord Spencer, who has donated more than £2.2 million to the party since 2019, holds shares in several oil and gas companies. Lord Bamford, meanwhile, who has donated at least £3.8 million to the party since 2019, is the owner of JCB, which belongs to the high-pollution construction industry. 

Tufton Street’s opposition to climate policy has made it the target of both Led by Donkeys and Just Stop Oil. On 21 April, Extinction Rebellion is holding a picket there. A spokesperson for the group said: “For all of their posturing as tribunes of the people, these so-called think tanks are working with vested interests against Britain’s prosperity, health and security”.

Sam is DeSmog’s UK Deputy Editor. He was previously the Investigations Editor of Byline Times and an investigative journalist at the BBC. He is the author of two books: Fortress London, and Bullingdon Club Britain.

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