Sir Lynton Crosby is an Australian corporate and political campaign strategist, and co-founder of the campaign consultancy Crosby Textor Group. Crosby’s firm has consulted for tobacco companies.
In 2013, when Crosby was an election advisor for the ruling Conservative Party in the United Kingdom (UK), he was at the centre of a controversy over the Government’s abandonment of tobacco plain packaging and minimum alcohol pricing proposals.
- 1 Background
- 1.1 Mayoral Elections and Conservative Party Leadership Campaigns, Boris Johnson (2008-2016)
- 1.2 Mayoral Election Campaign, Zac Goldsmith (2016)
- 1.3 UK Conservative Party Re-election Campaign (2012-2015)
- 1.4 UK Conservative Party General Election Campaign (2005)
- 1.5 John Howard: General Election Campaigns, Australia (1996-2007)
- 2 Relationship with the Tobacco Industry
- 3 Plain Packaging Lobbying Controversy
- 4 Concerns About Crosby’s Influence over Other Government Policy
- 5 TobaccoTactics Resources
- 6 Relevant Link
- 7 Notes
Crosby has had several high profile political advisory roles in Australia and the UK. These roles often led to controversy, with Crosby’s tactics widely criticised as being “inflammatory” and exploiting voters’ basic instinct of fear (e.g. on issues like immigration, refugees and crime).
Despite Crosby’s controversial campaign tactics, he was awarded a knighthood in 2016 for “service to politics” in the UK.
Mayoral Elections and Conservative Party Leadership Campaigns, Boris Johnson (2008-2016)
In June 2016, Crosby was the campaign leader of Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London, who bid for the Conservative Party Leadership following the resignation of UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The campaign came to a premature halt when Johnson’s ally, Michael Gove, decided to run for the leadership himself.
Crosby and Johnson have a history of working together. Crosby helped Johnson win two mayoral election campaigns; in 2008 and 2012. Crosby’s fee for the 2008 campaign was £125,000. In 2013, Johnson was accused of cronyism following a five-day trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he was accompanied by a group of entrepreneurs seeking business opportunities in the UAE, including Crosby who represented the small UK branch of his consultancy firm.
The Observer newspaper reported that, during the trip, Crosby hosted and funded a networking dinner and paid for Johnson to fly back to London in the middle of the trip, so the Mayor could attend Margaret Thatcher's funeral. Johnson initially failed to register the flights from Crosby within the specified 28-day limit, but did so later after questions were raised by the UK Labour Party. The Mayor's office attributed the delay to an "administrative error".
Mayoral Election Campaign, Zac Goldsmith (2016)
The UK branch of Crosby’s firm oversaw Conservative Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for Mayor of London in 2016. Goldsmith lost to Labour candidate Sadiq Khan. Goldsmith was strongly criticised for the negative tone of his campaign and attempting to link Khan to Islamist extremists, portraying Khan as a security risk.
Fellow Conservative Mohammed Amin wrote after the election: “I was disgusted (I considered milder words, but decided to be frank) with the tone of his campaign and his [Goldsmith’s] repeated and risible attempts to smear Sadiq Khan”, continuing that Goldsmith’s campaign to smear Khan had “probably increased our risks of suffering terrorism”.
It’s unclear whether Crosby was personally involved in Goldsmith’s campaign.
UK Conservative Party Re-election Campaign (2012-2015)
In 2012, Crosby was appointed election advisor by the UK Conservative Party to provide strategic direction as the Party headed towards the 2015 General Election.
Shortly after Crosby’s appointment, UK Prime Minister David Cameron abandoned plans to introduce tobacco plain packaging and alcohol minimum pricing, allegedly on advice from Crosby in a bid to “scrape the barnacles of the ship” to ensure an election win.
More on Crosby’s involvement in this controversy can be found in the ‘Plain Packaging Lobbying Controversy’ section below.
UK Conservative Party General Election Campaign (2005)
Crosby made Howard’s campaign focus on immigration and masterminded the controversial campaign slogan “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration. Are you thinking what we're thinking?". Some media suggested that Crosby’s slogans, including “How would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?”, earned the Conservative Party the reputation as Britain’s “nasty party”.
Howard lost the election to Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.
John Howard: General Election Campaigns, Australia (1996-2007)
Prior to Crosby’s move to the UK, he was campaign manager and chief pollster to Australian Conservative Prime Minister John Howard in five elections, helping Howard to four consecutive wins.
While working for Howard, Crosby and his C|T Group co-founder, Mark Textor, gained a reputation for employing ruthless attack politics against their opponents, with Textor paying £34,000 in damages to one Labour candidate for false claims made about her.
In Howard’s 2001 election campaign, Howard claimed, incorrectly, that Afghan refugees on the ship ‘Tampa’ had thrown their babies overboard to ensure that they were rescued and granted asylum. Howard’s statement was followed by full-page ads in the press saying "We will decide who comes into this country". The ‘Children Overboard Affair’ saw Howard re-elected with an increased majority. An Australian Senate Select Committee Inquiry later found that no children had been thrown overboard and that the government had known this prior to the election, criticising the government for misleading voters and exploiting fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum-seekers”.
Relationship with the Tobacco Industry
In the late 1990s, in his role as Australian Liberal Party Director (equivalent to the Conservative Party in the UK), Crosby actively sought out and accepted tobacco industry donations. Crosby was quoted as saying: “These [cigarette manufacturers] are legal companies which employ thousands of Australians. If they want to make a contribution…they are entitled to do so”.
The Australian branch of Crosby Textor Group reportedly worked for British American Tobacco (BAT) when the tobacco company was challenging plain packaging legislation in Australia, although BAT has denied that the firm worked on its plain packaging campaign.
The UK branch of Crosby Textor Group has consulted for Philip Morris International (PMI). The Times reported in 2013 that the firm had embarked on a contract with PMI in November 2012, during the time that Crosby started his advisory role with the UK Conservative Party.J. Watts, Lynton Crosby firm lobbied to stop plain packs, London Evening Standard, 16 July 2013, accessed March 2017</ref>
It was claimed, but never confirmed, that PMI’s contract with Crosby Textor Group was worth “around £6m”.
Plain Packaging Lobbying Controversy
Despite strong indications that the UK government intended to introduce plain tobacco packaging in 2013, it was notably missing from the Queen’s Speech in May that year (this speech sets out the proposed legislative programme of the year). In July 2013, the UK government confirmed that plain packaging would not be pursued for the time being.
At a 17 July Government press conference, and in response to a question asked by the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, Prime Minister David Cameron elaborated on his decision to abandon plain packaging proposals:
“The decision not to go ahead, for the time being, with plain paper packaging for cigarettes is a decision taken by me with the health secretary for the very simple reason that there isn't yet sufficient evidence for it and there is considerable legal uncertainty about it.
Cameron’s arguments, that there was a lack of evidence and that there were trademark issues, echoed some of the tobacco industry’s arguments used to oppose plain packaging legislation. Those arguments were not evidence-based, and critiques can be found at the Countering Industry Arguments against Plain Packaging page.
Crosby’s Conflicts of Interest: Government Political Advisor and Tobacco Lobbyist
In the wake of the Government’s reversal on plain packaging, concerns were raised about Crosby’s role in the Government’s decision.
Initially, concern was focused on the historic relationship between Crosby’s firm and BAT Australia, and questions were asked whether this amounted to a conflict of interest in relation to his role as political advisor to the Conservative Party.
Then in July two new ‘conflict of interest’ issues were revealed:
- It was confirmed that the UK branch of Crosby’s consultancy firm, had started a contract with PMI in November 2012, around the same time he became the Conservative Party’s election campaign strategist.
- While he was the Government’s election strategist, Crosby chaired a meeting in December 2012 where members of the tobacco industry discussed strategies to block the government’s plain packaging plan.
Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wollaston was one of many who raised concerns about the impact of Crosby’s conflicts of interest on government policy: “I think actually what the public are really worried about is the parasitical influence that we get from hidden lobbying.” She added: “I would like, for example, to know who else is paying for Mr Crosby’s services. The public have a right to know, I want to know, who else is paying for people's services when they have such an influential position with senior politicians.”
Government Accused of ‘Breach of Ministerial Code’
In the wake of the Crosby revelations, the Government was accused by the Labour Opposition Party of “a breach of the Ministerial Code”.
In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood dated 17 July 2013, Labour leader Ed Miliband demanded an inquiry to categorically determine whether Crosby's concurrent roles amounted to a conflict of interest. Miliband wrote: “Ministers should take care to ensure that they do not become associated with non-public organisations whose objectives may in any degree conflict with Government policy and thus give rise to a conflict of interest.”
Miliband further wrote: “Had Mr Crosby been a Government employee there would have been very strict rules to prevent that conflict taking place. Because he is formally an employee of the Conservative Party, while clearly advising on government business and regularly visiting Downing Street, we have been left with what is in effect a back door breach of the Ministerial Code.”
Heywood rejected Miliband’s request for an inquiry, referring to a document which outlined the “Principles of Engagement” that governed interactions between Crosby and the Conservative Party (see image 1) These principles were not drawn up at the commencement of Crosby’s employment (they were written in July 2013), nevertheless, a Government spokesperson stressed that these principles were agreed verbally at the outset of Crosby’s role as political advisor and had been adhered to throughout.
Government Denies Crosby’s Undue Policy Influence
When questioned by media on whether Lynton Crosby had ‘intervened’ on the government’s intentions on plain packaging, Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt both insisted that Crosby had advised the Conservative Party on political strategy only, with Cameron adding that “Lynton Crosby has never lobbied me on anything.”
In an interview with Channel 4 News, Cameron was asked:
- “Did Lynton Crosby – in the room, during a strategy meeting – say: 'Actually some of these bits of legislation rather clutter up the business of government and the focus of government and maybe it would be better to focus on other things'. Do you deny those details?”
I don't recognise the conversation that you are putting forward at all, right? I have been very careful about what I have said which is to say he hasn't lobbied me on any of these issues.
No details of any meetings between Crosby, the Prime Minister, and other ministers, were released as the Government classed Crosby as a political advisor, not a policy advisor.
Crosby Denies Conflicts of Interest
In response to the growing media storm about his alleged conflicts of interest, Crosby issued the following statement in July 2013: “What the PM said should be enough for any ordinary person, but to avoid any doubt or speculation let me be clear. At no time have I had any conversation or discussion with or lobbied the prime minister, or indeed the Health Secretary or the Health minister, on plain packaging or tobacco issues.” He further stated that “Indeed, any claim that I have sought to improperly use my position as part-time campaign adviser to the Conservative Party is simply false.”
The investigation found that in July 2013, Crosby Textor-linked accounts in Australia had deleted material on Crosby’s Wikipedia page, including sections concerning plain packaging on at least three occasions. One of the deleted sections included a call by a Liberal Democrat MP for Lynton Crosby to be sacked (see image 2).
According to Channel 4 news, the ensuing “edit-war” between Wikipedia and Crosby Textor led to “the Crosby Textor-linked accounts, including entire Crosby Textor computer networks, being permanently banned from editing any Wikipedia entry.” According to Crosby Textor: “It's hardly surprising that any individual or company would want to correct inaccuracies and falsehoods on its Wikipedia page.”
Evidence of Crosby Lobbying On Plain Packaging
Despite a lack of evidence that Crosby lobbied the Prime Minister and Health Minister on plain packaging, documents released under FOI legislation, obtained by the University of Bath Tobacco Control Research Group, show that Crosby did lobby the Government on plain packaging via Lord Marland, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property, to oppose plain packaging.
Crosby and Lord Marland had previously worked together on Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
On 1 November 2012, Crosby wrote to Marland: “My dear Lord, Please find enclosed as promised a telling opinion from Lord Hoffman plus the view of Peter Lawrence (ex Patent Division and an interesting comment on counterfeiting from Crimestoppers). Hoffman is the most telling and concerning from an IP viewpoint” (see image 3).
The opinion by Lord Hoffmann, a retired senior UK judge who concluded that plain packaging could breach trademark law, had been commissioned by PMI, another client of Crosby, as part of PMI’s strategy against the introduction of plain packaging.
The use of the wording “as promised” in the email suggests previous contact between Crosby and Marland, although the Intellectual Property Office indicated that it does not hold “prior records of any correspondence, or meeting notes, between Mr Crosby and Lord Marland where the topic of standardised tobacco packaging was discussed.”
In a statement to the Observer, a spokesperson for Crosby’s company, Crosby Textor Fullbrook Partners said: "Lynton Crosby was not working for the Conservative party in any capacity at the time of this discussion and there was no subsequent discussion with Lord Marland. There was no conflict of interest. The email contained documents that the government already had."
On 12 November 2012, the day that it was announced that Crosby was to be the Conservative Party election strategist, Marland penned a response to Crosby's November 1st letter, addressing him at the outset as the “World’s Greatest Campaigns Manager”(see image 4). In the letter, Marland told Crosby that his staff was working hard to make sure the “legal position concerning intellectual property rights and standardised packaging is clear and that our domestic and international obligations are understood.” Marland signs off his letter with “warmest wishes to you and your co-founder” and states that “I remain your humble servant.”
Concerns About Crosby’s Influence over Other Government Policy
Concerns over Crosby’s potential influence on a number of other government policy areas have also been raised, including minimum pricing for alcohol (see our page on Crosby Textor Group for more information on Crosby’s links with the alcohol industry), promoting the use of fracking for shale gas in the UK, and NHS reforms.
- Crosby Textor Group, which includes details on how Mark Fullbrook, Co-Founder of Crosby Textor Fullbrook (the UK branch of the Crosby Textor Group), sought internal government information regarding plain packaging proposals in Ireland
- Plain Packaging in the UK
- Industry Arguments Against Plain Packaging
- Countering Industry Arguments against Plain Packaging
- PMI’s Anti-PP Media Campaign
- Crosby Textor Group, Leadership: Sir Lynton, Crosby Textor Group website, accessed March 2017
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- J. Lyons, Lynton Crosby: David Cameron under fire from all sides over aide’s links to tobacco and alcohol industries, The Mirror Online, 8 May 2013, accessed March 2017
- BBC News, Lynton Crosby: I’ve never spoken to PM about tobacco, 23 July 2013, accessed March 2017
- M. Smith, Lynton Crosby's staff deleted criticism from Wikipedia, 13 August 2014, Channel 4, accessed March 2017
- M. Smith, Lynton Crosby's staff deleted criticism from Wikipedia, 13 August 2014, Channel 4, accessed March 2017
- L. Crosby, Email to Lord Marland, 1 November 2012
- Intellectual Property Office, Email to University of Bath, August 2014
- Jamie Doward, Conservative election guru Lynton Crosby lobbied minister over tobacco, The Observer, 6 September 2014, accessed March 2017
- J. Doward, David Cameron’s election guru faces new attack over tobacco lobbying, The Observer, 11 October 2014, accessed March 2017
- BBC News, Minimum alcohol pricing plan shelved, 17 July 2013, accessed March 2017
- N. Morris, Cameron now faces questions about Lynton Crosby and fracking, The Independent, 19 July 2013, accessed March 2017
- BBC News, Lynton Crosby firm denies NHS ‘conflict of interest’ claims, 22 July 2013, accessed March 2017