DeSmog

GB News Owner Hires Tory Kingpin’s Oil and Gas Linked Lobbying Firm 

After donating £50,000 to a Conservative faction in December, the Legatum Institute has now hired Lynton Crosby’s influential CT Group.
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Lynton Crosby at the 2014 Conservative Party conference. Credit: PA Images / Alamy

One of the major backers of broadcaster GB News is now employing a leading right-wing lobbying company that has ties to polluting interests. 

The UK register of lobbyists shows that since January, the influential CT Group has been representing the Legatum Institute, a think tank funded by the Dubai-based investment firm Legatum Group, which co-owns GB News. 

CT Group was founded by political consultant and lobbyist Lynton Crosby in 2002. Crosby ran four Conservative Party election campaigns between 2005 and 2017, and was involved in the 2019 campaign. Crosby protege Isaac Levido is currently in charge of the party’s preparations for the next general election. 

The Australian firm currently lobbies in the UK on behalf of mining company Ferrexpo, which says it is “at the forefront of strategic oil and gas investments that drive both financial prosperity and sustainable energy solutions.”

In the past, CT Group has lobbied for fossil fuel interests across the globe, working for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and the mining giant BHP.

A 2019 Guardian investigation found that CT Group orchestrated a multi-million-pound campaign to spread pro-coal and anti-renewables messaging on social media on behalf of the mining giant Glencore. The Guardian also found that CT Group had earned millions of pounds representing the Saudi Arabian government, which derives 87 percent of its budget from fossil fuels. 

Hiring CT Group appears to be the latest attempt by the Legatum Group to expand its political influence. In December 2023, the Legatum Institute Foundation donated £50,000 to the Tory faction New Conservatives, which advocates for more socially conservative, right-wing ideas within its party, and publicly campaigns against “woke” culture, and immigration. 

It has been claimed that Crosby himself has pioneered this brand of divisive “culture war” campaign, which tries to drive a wedge between voters on issues of identity, migration, and social values. 

“It is curious how certain agencies, including Lynton Crosby’s, end up advising both the Tories and their friends,” Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, told DeSmog. “This raises a number of interesting political questions.”

The Legatum Group, the parent company of CT Group’s new client, was one of the founding investors in GB News, whose presenters include several Conservative Party and Reform UK politicians. 

Legatum has sunk tens of millions into GB News since its launch in June 2021, having invested at least £50 million in two funding rounds. However, the startup broadcaster has struggled to turn a profit, reporting losses of £42 million in the year to May 2023, and £76 million in total since its launch.

Despite its hefty financial losses, GB News continues to be a prominent mouthpiece for individuals who support more fossil fuel extraction and oppose the UK’s climate targets. An investigation by DeSmog found that one in three GB News presenters had spread climate science denial on air in 2022, while more than half had attacked climate action.

Legatum’s Agenda

Founded in 2007, the Legatum Institute claims to promote the “prosperity of individuals, families, communities and nations”. 

Once called the “intellectual heart of hard Brexit” by the Financial Times, a 2017 Legatum Institute report about the UK’s departure from the EU was found to have breached the Charity Commission’s rules on political activity.

In more recent times, the institute has advocated for an agenda focused on reducing immigration, reducing taxes, and cutting regulation. The think tank has also publicly supported the government’s efforts to expand North Sea oil and gas exploration. 

Responding to the King’s Speech in November 2023, it described the newly announced plan to mandate annual North Sea licensing rounds as the “best measure” in the government’s policy agenda. 

“Cheap and abundant domestic energy is the bedrock of our prosperity and economic advancement over centuries: oil and gas today, and coal before them,” it said, adding that hopefully the prime minister “will make headway with his efforts to bring some rational thinking and sense to the overall net zero policy.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that he wants to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves, despite the International Energy Agency stating that new oil and gas fields are “incompatible” with the legally binding 1.5C global warming target established by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Neither the Legatum Group nor the Legatum Institute reveal details of their investments or donors. The institute has been given the lowest score by openDemocracy’s think tank funding transparency scorecard. 

However, it’s known that the institute has received funding from fossil fuel interests. In 2018, it received $77,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, which was founded by the CEO of the US-based Koch Industries fossil fuel dynasty.

A large proportion of the politicians associated with Legatum have also cast doubt on climate science, attacked climate activists, or questioned the UK’s net zero targets. 

During a speech at the National Conservatism Conference in London in May last year, the influential MP Miriam Cates, who co-chairs the New Conservatives, suggested that “epidemic levels of anxiety and confusion” are being caused by teaching children that “humanity is killing the Earth”.

In August, her New Conservatives ally Danny Kruger used his role on Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee to urge the Bank of England to investigate the “influence Greenpeace and other extreme climate activist groups may have over employees of the Bank”. Kruger worked as a senior adviser to the Legatum Institute from 2017 to 2018.

New Conservatives president John Hayes is an adviser to the oil firm BB Energy, which pays him £50,000 a year. Hayes has in the past supported the controversial practice of fracking for shale gas.

The Conservative MPs employed as presenters on GB News include Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has called net zero “a really silly policy”, as well as Esther McVey and Philip Davies, both of whom support the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Conservative MPs that campaigns against the government’s net zero policies. 

GB News also employs several senior representatives of right-wing political party Reform UK, including its leader Richard Tice, president Nigel Farage, and its sole MP, Tory defector Lee Anderson

Reform UK campaigns on an overtly anti-climate platform. It has called for the UK’s 2050 climate target to be scrapped, and has proposed holding a “referendum on net zero”. 

Tice has said “CO2 isn’t poison, it’s plant food”, while Farage has said that there is a “complete obsession with carbon dioxide almost to the exclusion of everything else”, based on “alarmism… dodgy predictions and science”.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s foremost climate science body, has stated that carbon dioxide “is responsible for most of global warming” since the late 19th century, which has increased the “severity and frequency of weather and climate extremes, like heat waves, heavy rains, and drought”.

Reform UK received £135,000 last year from donors who deny climate science or have fossil fuel interests. 

The Crosby Connection

Nicknamed the “Wizard of Oz”, Lynton Crosby is renowned for masterminding right-wing election campaigns in the UK and Australia. 

Crosby helped to deliver four consecutive general election victories for the Australian Liberal Party from 1996 to 2004, worked on Boris Johnson’s two successful London mayoral campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and helped the UK Conservative Party to win power in 2010, 2015, and 2017. 

Several CT Group staff worked for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a petrostate, during the COP28 climate summit hosted in Dubai last year, helping to deliver “communications advice”. The UAE derives roughly 40 percent of its income from oil and gas. 

CT Group figures seconded by the UAE included David Canzini, a former advisor to Boris Johnson when he became prime minister. While working for Johnson in Number 10, Canzini reportedly opposed a windfall tax on oil and gas companies and pushed Johnson to take a less positive stance on onshore wind farms. 

Mark Fullbrook, the chief of staff to Johnson’s successor Liz Truss, was also a senior member of CT Group. He co-founded the UK arm of Crosby’s lobbying company and still owned 10 percent of the firm while serving in Number 10. 

DeSmog revealed in October 2022 that Fullbrook had lobbied on behalf of a wind energy company that specialises in electrifying the production of North Sea oil and gas with offshore turbines, an approach criticised by campaigners as “greenwashing”. 

The Legatum Institute, the Legatum Group, and CT Group were approached for comment. 

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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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