Lynton Crosby

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Since November 2012, the Australian lobbyist Lynton Crosby has been a political advisor to the UK Conservative Party. He was responsible for providing the Party with its 2015 General Election strategy.

Crosby is also Joint Managing Director and Co-Founder of the Australian public relations and lobbying firm, the Crosby Textor Group. According to its website, Crosby Textor is “a specialist opinion research, strategic communications and Campaigns Company.”[1] British American Tobacco (BAT) is a previous client of the Crosby Textor Group.[2][3]

The company also has a UK branch, which operates under the name Crosby Textor Fullbrook (CTF), which has also worked with tobacco companies in the past.[4]

Although it was thought that CTF did not hold a contract with the tobacco industry when Crosby was appointed Conservative political advisor, it has recently emerged that in fact CTF embarked on a new contract with Philip Morris International (PMI) in November 2012, during the same period that Crosby started his advisory role.[5][6][7] It was rumoured that PMI’s contract with CTF could be worth as much as £6m.[8] In the same month Crosby lobbied a member of the House of Lords against tobacco plain packaging legislation proposals.[9]


Political Strategist Roles

Crosby has been described as a ‘political strategist’, the “Wizard of Oz” and as a “master of the dark arts of political spin”. Crosby has referred to the latter description, created by an Australian publication, as “bulls**t”.[10] Crosby, in his capacity as co-founder of Crosby Textor, has been involved in a number of high profile advisory roles. These roles have often led to controversy.

John Howard, Liberal (Conservative) Candidate, Election Campaign, Australia

Crosby was campaign manager and chief pollster to the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard in five elections, helping Howard to four consecutive wins.[11]

While working for Howard, Crosby and his Crosby Textor co-founder, Mark Textor, gained a reputation for employing ruthless attack politics against their opponents and using subtle appeals to fear and prejudice to win over "soft" or "floating" voters.

In Howard’s 2001 election campaign, he claimed, incorrectly, that Afgan 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". [12]

The story was a myth.

Michael Howard, Conservative Candidate, UK General Election Campaign

Crosby worked for the British Conservative Party on Michael Howard’s 2005 election campaign.[13][14]

As part of the campaign, CTF focused on immigration and calculated a controversial campaign slogan “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration. Are you thinking what we're thinking?" [12]

Boris Johnson’s London Mayoral Campaigns

In 2008, Crosby was brought in to rescue the Conservative Boris Johnson’s campaign for the Mayor of London. The then Conservative Party Treasurer (2003-07), Lord Marland, said that Crosby was paid £125,000 for his role in Johnson’s first election campaign.[12]

The previous Labour Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, complained that CTF had orchestrated a stream of negative rumour and innuendo against him in tabloid newspapers. "You clearly don't employ Lynton Crosby if you want a clean and uplifting campaign," he said.[15]

Livingstone commented that Crosby employed the “dead cat strategy” to Johnson’s campaign:

“If the election is about an issue on which your candidate is weak you smash a dead cat down in the middle of the table and everyone starts talking about the dead cat.”[12]

Livingstone claimed that he was ahead in the polls with his policy of cutting travel fares until Johnson’s camp changed the discourse by raising questions about tax evasion, “there was immediately this question that I was a tax dodger and that shifted the whole debate away from fares to tax dodging.”

Four years later, in 2012, Crosby once again coached Johnson to victory.

In 2013, Johnson was criticised for cronyism after taking Crosby on a five-day trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).[16] Crosby was representing CTF as one of a group of entrepreneurs trying to acquire business from the UAE. The Observer reported that Crosby hosted and funded a "networking dinner" during the visit to the Gulf and paid for Johnson to fly back to London in the middle of the trip, so the Mayor could attend Margaret Thatcher's funeral. Initially, Johnson failed to register the flights from Crosby within the specified 28-day limit, but did so later after questions were raised by Labour. The Mayor's office said the delay was an "administrative error".

The leader of the Labour group on the London assembly, Len Duvall, said: "Boris's choice of travelling partner was bizarre. Taking Lynton Crosby on this trip made no sense at all, it was blatant cronyism." [16]

Involvement with the Tobacco Industry

Both Crosby and the Crosby Textor Group have long-standing links to the tobacco industry.[2][3][17] For example, when he was Federal Director of the Liberal Party in Australia, Crosby sought out and accepted tobacco industry funding.[18]

Furthermore, in the late nineties, Mark Textor, co-founder of Crobsy Textor, attended Philip Morris’ Australian Corporate Affairs Conference as a consultant, where the ‘threat’ of plain packaging to the tobacco industry was discussed.[19][20] In the mid-noughties, Textor listed Philip Morris as a past client of his.[21][22]

In 2010, it was reported that Crosby Textor ran a Aus$5m campaign against plain packaging in Australia funded by BAT and PMI.[23] In November 2012 CTF signed a contract with Philip Morris’ UK subsidiary.

The Plain Packaging Political Row

2012: Appointed Election Advisor to the UK Conservative Party

At the time of Crosby’s appointment by the Conservative Party to provide strategic direction as it headed towards the 2015 General Election, concerns were raised about Crosby Textor’s connection with BAT in Australia, and whether CTF’s history of working with the tobacco industry amounted to a conflict of interest.[24] It was not publicly known that CTF was simultaneously setting up a contract with Philip Morris in the UK.

2013: Plain Packaging Abandoned

Despite political speculation that it would be included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2013, plain packaging was not incorporated in the Government’s legislative programme. Media speculation of Crosby’s role in the decision was rife. Nevertheless, despite owning CTF and being a lobbyist, Downing Street stated that Lynton Crosby’s meetings with the Prime Minister and other ministers would not be publicly disclosed as he is classed as a political advisor not a policy advisor. [25] In early July 2013, it was confirmed that plain packaging would not be pursued in the UK for the time being.

In the days following this announcement, news broke of CTF’s concurrent contract with PMI.[5] In a letter to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham questioned whether Crosby’s relationship with PMI might have influenced Governmental policy decisions:

"I have discovered that before Christmas last year, [Crosby] chaired a meeting at a hotel in central London to discuss, amongst other things, a plan to stop standardised packaging in the UK. Given these developments, the public are rightly seeking reassurance that Mr Crosby has not used his position within government, nor his access to government ministers, to lobby for changes on tobacco and alcohol policy."[26]

David Cameron: Crosby Never ‘Lobbied Me’ or ‘Intervened in Any Way’

When questioned on whether he had been lobbied by Lynton Crosby on plain packaging or minimum pricing for alcohol, David Cameron insisted that Crosby advised him only on political strategy:

”Lynton Crosby has never lobbied me on anything.”[12]

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also claimed that Crosby had no bearing on the plain packs decision:

”Lynton Crosby’s work is for the Conservative Party. He hasn’t lobbied me and he hasn’t lobbied the prime minister on issues to do with public health and there is a clear dividing line.”[27]

However, owing to the fact that Crosby’s company had a contract with PMI while he was also the Conservative Party’s election campaign strategist, many remained concerned that Crosby played a key role in the Government’s decision to abandon plain packaging.[16]

In July 2013, Labour leader Ed Miliband wrote to the government’s Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and asked for an investigation to categorically determine whether Crosby's concurrent roles amounted to a conflict of interest.[28] In his letter Miliband referred Heywood to the Ministerial Code:

7.12 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.

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.

The prime minister has repeatedly fallen back on a carefully constructed formulation that Lynton Crosby does not ‘lobby him’. This only seems to confirm that conversations have taken place on this issue with Mr Crosby.[28]

On 17 July, during a Downing Street press conference, following a day of questions about Lynton Crosby, Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, asked David Cameron why he had given a “legalistic answer” when asked whether he'd had discussions with Mr Crosby about plain packaging.

Cameron retorted:

This is a complete red herring, which is raised by the Labour party because they are in political trouble. I can't believe the BBC will fall for it. 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.

These arguments are synonymous with the tobacco industry’s arguments. For a rebuttal of these arguments please visit:

See also Plain Packaging in the UK.

During an interview with Gary Gibbon, political editor for Channel 4 News, Cameron was again questioned on the matter:[29]

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?

Cameron responded:

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.

I have answered the question very very clearly. I have not been lobbied by anybody on any of these issues.

On his BBC 1 Sunday morning show, attempts by Andrew Marr to get an answer on whether Crosby and Cameron had ever ‘talked’ about plain packaging returned another vague answer from Cameron, who stated that Crosby had:

not intervened in any way on this or indeed on other issues.

Marr tried three times to clarify the Prime Minister's answer; however, Cameron stuck to his response that Crosby had not intervened. The conversation ended with Marr saying that was not quite an answer to the question I asked and Cameron retorting Well, that’s the answer that you are getting.[30]

Crosby Denies Lobbying

In the days following Cameron’s contested denials that Crosby had ‘intervened’ in Government policy matters, Crosby broke his silence and issued the following statement:

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.

Indeed, any claim that I have sought to improperly use my position as part-time campaign adviser to the Conservative Party is simply false.[31]

Given Cameron’s previous cagey responses and his refusal to answer whether there had been any discussion with Crosby about plain packaging, Crosby’s statement was met with scepticism by some sections of the media.

Principles of Engagement between Lynton Crosby and the Conservative Party, July 2013

Shortly after Crosby’s statement was issued, Sir Jeremy Heyward rejected Ed Miliband’s request for an inquiry. Hayward referred to a document which outlined the “Principles of Engagement” allegedly governing interactions between Crosby and the Conservative Party (see image). Heyward said:[32]

Against this background [principles of engagement] I do not see what purpose would be served by the inquiry that you propose.

However, the principles were not drawn up at the commencement of Crosby’s employment. They were written in July 2013 following the media furore over his contract with PMI and suspected links to other industries. Nevertheless, a Conservative spokesperson stressed that these principles were agreed verbally at the outset of Crosby’s role as political advisor and had been adhered to throughout.[32] Shadow Cabinet Secretary, Andy Trickett argued that the Principles of Engagement were worthless and unenforceable if the Conservative Party did not know who CTF’s clients were and therefore argued for the immediate publication of Crosby’s other clients.[33] Trickett asked a series of questions of Sir Heywood:

  • Were you or any civil servants involved in any way in the drawing up of the terms of engagement published yesterday?
  • Did you know that the principles of engagement which you sent me had only been 'written down in the last couple of days'?
  • Did you know about them before this week, and when did you first see them?
  • Do you have any evidence at all that these principles have been followed?
  • Are you personally satisfied that Lynton Crosby has had no discussions with the prime minister or other ministers about tobacco policy, alcohol policy, NHS policy or fracking policy?
  • Are you personally satisfied that there is no possibility of a conflict of interests between Mr Crosby's roles as an adviser to the Conservative party and an adviser to commercial organisations?
  • Do you know who Mr Crosby's commercial clients are, and in the interests of transparency will you ensure that a full list is published immediately?

Separating Political Strategy from Government Policy

As the controversy showed no signs of abating with continued media scrutiny throughout July 2013, members of the Conservative Party asked the Prime Minister to have Crosby free himself from any contracts that may be perceived as a conflict of interest. Editor of the ConservativeHome website, Paul Goodman, a former Conservative Minister, [34][35] advised the Conservative Party to find the funds to employ Crosby full-time. He said he believed that Crosby had not acted improperly but admitted that it is difficult to create a distinction between a strategy advisor and a policy advisor.

The line between advice on policy (which Crosby doesn't give) and advice on strategy (which he certainly does) isn't the iron wall that Downing Street and CCHQ would like to assert: the one tends to meld into the other. And as long as the strategist has other clients, he is open to the charge of conflicts of interest – whether he publishes his client list or not.

The Executive Comment Editor for The Financial Times, John McDermott explored the argument coming from both Number 10 and the Conservative Party that Lynton Crosby was a political advisor to the Conservative Party only and not an advisor on Government policy.[36]

Dermott proposed that in order to believe that Crosby would not have an influence on Government Policy, despite being a political strategy advisor to the Conservative Party, one would have to believe the following three things:

1. …that because Britain is run by a coalition, there is today a more meaningful distinction between advising a party and a government.
However, even if that were to matter, the Tories of course remain the dominant party in government.
2. …that a political strategist’s job – winning elections through assessing public opinion and running campaigns – does not require changes in policy for it to be successful.
McDermott argued that This is vaguely plausible, though it would be more so if Mr Crosby had been hired in 2015 – when the next general election is due – rather than 2013, mid-cycle.
3. …that a decision not to introduce policy is different from introducing new ones. Mr Crosby has been credited by senior Tories for a leaner and meaner Queen’s Speech, which did not contain previously announced policies on minimum alcohol pricing or plain cigarette packaging.

Lobbying Transparency

Tamasin Cave, director of the investigative campaign group Spinwatch:

It's just not tenable that someone who runs an international commercial lobbying business can be allowed to get so close to the heart of the British government. Crosby embodies the problem with lobbying: unfettered access combined with absolute secrecy. As a minimum, he must declare his clients.

Conservative MP, Sarah Wollaston:

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.[37]

In Mid-July 2013, the coalition government announced its plans to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists. When enacted into law, this should force CTF to declare its clients, however it will not resolve the issue as to what influence, if any, Lynton Crosby had on the government’s decision to abandon plain packaging legislation. Furthermore, government sources have allegedly reported that new transparency laws would take approximately 18 months to come into force, meaning that as election advisor, Crosby would not have to provide a list of his company’s clients prior to the next general election.[38]

2014: Crosby and the Plain Packaging Lobbying Row Continues

Editing Lynton Crosby’s Wikipedia Page, including on Plain Packaging

Part of the Wikipedia text removed by a Crosby Textor Linked Account

In August 2014, a Channel 4 News investigation found that staff at Crosby Textor had removed “substantial” sections of the Lynton Crosby Wikipedia page.

The investigation found that in July the previous year, Crosby Textor-linked accounts in Australia deleted material on Crosby’s own 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.

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.”

Trying to justify its actions, Crosby Textor said: “It's hardly surprising that any individual or company would want to correct inaccuracies and falsehoods on its Wikipedia page.” [39]

Crosby Lobbied British Government Over Plain Packaging

Lynton Crosby’s email to Lord Marland

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information by the University of Bath Tobacco Control Research Group, reveal that Lynton Crosby lobbied Lord Marland, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property about plain packaging.

On the 1st November 2012, Crosby emailed Marland saying that:

“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”.[40]

The use of the wording “as promised” in the email suggests that there had been previous contact between Crosby and Marland. However, according to the Intellectual Property Office “there are no prior records of any correspondence, or meeting notes, between Mr Crosby and Lord Marland where the topic of standardised tobacco packaging was discussed.”[41]

Lord Marland, then Conservative minister for intellectual property sends a ‎ letter about plain packaging proposals to Conservative party election strategist, Lynton Crosby

The opinion by Lord Hoffmann on intellectual property had been commissioned by Philip Morris International (PMI) as part of its strategy against the introduction of plain packaging.

According to the Observer, Crosby had personally signed a contract on behalf of his firm with PMI in November 2012 in a deal reported to be up to £6 million. [42] Just over two weeks after the email was sent, the BBC reported that Crosby would also soon be working for the Conservatives.[43]

Marland and Crosby: “Fantastic” Friends

It is not surprising that Crosby chose Marland as the Minister to lobby over plain packaging. The two are said to be close friends, who worked together on Boris Johnson’s campaign to be London mayor.[44]

Marland has a testimonial on Crosby Textor’s website, calling him “The best [campaign] manager in the world”.[45]

"Serious Questions to Answer"

The documents raise questions over the denial that Crosby issued in July 2013, in which he stated:

“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.” [46]

Although this denial is technically correct, the released FOI document shows that Crosby did lobby the government via Lord Marland. In response to the Observer article, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “This revelation leaves David Cameron and Lynton Crosby with serious questions to answer. They have clearly not been straight with people."

Burnham added:

"Last summer, Cameron and Crosby led the public to believe that the Tory Election chief had never used his position to lobby the Government on cigarette packaging. But we now know that was not true and that Crosby was lobbying Ministers just days before entering Downing Street. This whole affair raises yet more doubts about David Cameron's judgement and the character of his Government. He brought a tobacco lobbyist into the heart of No10 and then failed to answer straight questions about his activities. This matter needs to be cleared up once and for all." [47]

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." [9]

Crosby: “The World’s Greatest Campaigns Manager”

Furthermore, the day that it was announced that Crosby was to be the Conservative Party election strategist on 12 November 2012, Marland penned a ‎ response to Crosby's November 1st letter, addressing him at the outset as the “World’s Greatest Campaigns Manager”. 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.”[48]

  • For information 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 see Crosby Textor Group.

Other Controversy

Questions have also been raised about Crosby’s influence on a number of other policy areas,[49] namely, minimum pricing for alcohol,[50] promoting the use of fracking for shale gas in the UK,[51] and NHS reforms.[52]


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