Here at The Free Press we want to expose the matrix of relationships and associations between journalists and elite figures in politics, business and other aspects of the “Establishment”. In this edition we link a seemingly innocuous personal meeting to Dominic Cummings and his metastatic presence throughout the establishment. From this one example we can see the intricate relationships of money, power and influence that figures like Cummings can manipulate to their advantage. His command of these connections perhaps goes some way to explaining why an entire government is willing to sacrifice public opinion rather than hold him to account!
On Friday the 5th of June it was reported that Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, contravened the official lockdown guidance and attended a BBQ. Also present was reported to be host Freddy Gray, deputy editor of The Spectator and guests Richard Tice, Chairman of the Brexit Party and his partner Isabel Oakeshott, a political journalist. The meeting was apparently sparked by Gray publishing what Seely and Isle of Wight residents considered to be a derogatory article about the island being used to test the Track and Trace app. Seely’s defence of the island in The Spectator can be found here.
The launch of the Test and Trace app has been mired in controversy from its inception. The head of Test and Trace is Dido Harding, she was in charge at TalkTalk during a massive data leak scandal and is a board member of The Jockey Club, the organisation responsible for the Cheltenham Festival, an event referred to as a public health “disaster” for accelerating the Covid-19 outbreak at the start of the pandemic that went ahead despite warnings.
Harding is married to Tory MP John Penrose. Penrose is a former head of research at the Bow Group, a right-wing think tank Michael Howard was involved with, and is affiliated to the Leave.EU campaign, founded by Richard Tice. Penrose is also on the board of 1828, a neo-liberal think-tank that argues for a “bold and progressive” approach to replacing the NHS with an insurance based system operated by the Government, or preferably (for them) private companies. They also, rather awkwardly (or entirely presciently!) published an article entitled “The NHS should leave the apps to Apple and Google” which states “Unfortunately, the British contact tracing app is late, unlikely to ever be effective and risks alienating users by invading their privacy.”
One of the companies awarded the contract is Serco. Serco have been fined £1milllion for failures around previous government contracts and have already breached data protection rules regarding Track and Trace. Like with Harding and Cummings, failures to adhere to government regulation does not preclude you from lucrative government employment! Totally coincidentally Serco’s CEO is Rupert Soames, brother of former Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames and grandson of Winston Churchill. A former Head of Public affairs for Serco is the current Minister of State for Health, Edward Argar.
Another company that worked on the app was Faculty. The company is linked to Cambridge Analytica and supplied technology to the Vote Leave campaign in 2016. One of its key data scientists, Ben Warner, was brought to the Conservative Party election campaign by Senior Advisor Dominic Cummings, who he now works alongside on the infamous SAGE panel. Cummings also ran the Vote Leave campaign.
Barbeque of the Vanities
Bob Seely was educated at the independent boy’s school Harrow. He is related to several former politicians on the Isle of Wight and from the UK government, including General Jack Seely. He began his career as a foreign correspondent for The Times in the Balkans during the 90s. He has also been a special correspondent for the Washington Post and contributed to The Spectator and the Henry Jackson Society. Seely supported Michael Gove’s leadership bid in an article on CAPX, a news website founded by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank. The CPS was founded by Margaret Thatcher.
Seely Worked at the Conservative Central Office advising amongst others, Frances Maude and Michael Howard. Maude is a Thatcherite, anti-EU former MP. He was educated at Abingdon independent school and founded Francis Maude Associates, a consultancy with Baroness Simone Finn that’s focused on government efficiency and reform. His father edited the Sydney Morning Herald. Maude has worked for Morgan Stanley and ASDA group and is the former chairman of the government deregulation task force (which I’m sure his previous corporate employers appreciated!). He founded the think tank Policy Exchange with Michael Gove and Nicholas Boles.
Nicholas Boles is a former Conservative MP and is a member of the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank that is also affiliated to Gove. Douglas Murray, associate editor of the Spectator, is associate director of the Henry Jackson Society.
Murray worked at a think tank called the Centre for Social Cohesion which was later amalgamated into the Henry Jackson Society. The CSC was initially a spin off from the think tank Civitas. Research carried out by Civitas was heavily relied upon for the Vote Leave campaign.
The Vote Leave campaign – chief executive Matthew Elliot – was initially registered at 55 Tufton Street in London, a building where several right of centre think tanks are based. These include two think tanks chaired by Matthew Elliot, pro-Brexit Business for Britain and the Taxpayers’ Alliance. He also founded Brexit Central, a political website, the deputy editor for which was everyone’s favourite social media terrible infant Darren Grimes. Grimes is also a former digital manager for the think tank Institute of Economic affairs and key player in the AggregateIQ court case. AggregateIQ are also linked to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Other residents of Tufton street include Civitas and Leave Means Leave, an organisation Michael Howard stated he shared “aspirations” with and the co-founder is Richard Tice. In the next door building one of the residents is the Centre for Policy Studies, as mentioned above.
Richard Tice was educated at the independent Uppingham school. He was formerly a Director of campaign group Business for Sterling who were against joining the euro in the 90s. The campaign director for BfS was one Dominic Cummings, now senior special advisor to Boris Johnson and fellow lockdown breaker. Tice also founded Leave.EU with businessman Arron Banks.
Tice has contributed papers to the Reform think tank, the co-founder of which is Nick Herbert MP, a former pupil of Haileybury independent school who is also former chief executive of Business for Sterling, plus Founder and chairman of the Countryside Alliance. Reform co-founder Andrew Haldenby was also employed by Business for Sterling and director of studies at, you guessed it, the Centre for Policy Studies.
Richard Tice is also Chairman and former MEP of the Brexit party.
Also present at the BBQ was Richard Tice’s partner Isabel Oakeshott, former political editor of the Sunday Times. She was educated at the independent Gordonstoun school. She is a Former Daily Mail political editor and an unauthorised biographer of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Her co-author on this book was Michael Ashcroft, the 95th richest person in the UK and a whole other matrix in himself. Coincidentally Ashcroft was actually accused of putting democracy “in danger” by Oakeshotts’ relative, life peer Mathew Oakeshott! It is a sentiment we hope you are beginning to share after reading this! Isabel was the Ghost writer for Arron Banks’ book and she is also related to political philosopher Michael Oakeshott.
Finally, the host of this event is Freddy Grey. He is the editor of the Spectator USA and deputy editor of The Spectator. He was educated at the independent (of course) Bradfield college. He is a former editor at the American Conservative, whose founders include Pat Buchanan, and the Catholic Herald, owned by controversial tycoon Conrad Black. The editor of the Catholic Herald is Dan Hitchens, son of Peter, nephew of Christopher, and Dan is also a contributor to The Spectator. Gray has been referred to in the Financial Times recently as “Freddy Gray, deputy editor of The Spectator and a friend of Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield”.
We can see again how simply following the threads from a single meeting, about a single government policy, can link us to an entire constellation of establishment figures and affiliates that repeatedly intertwine and intersect. We can see how these associations give powerful interests access to, and influence over, those in power. As with Cummings and other examples mentioned above, political embarrassment and proven failure is no impediment to success if your connections are strong enough!
This BBQ reveals the revolving door between politics, the media, business and the think tanks, as highlighted by Chomsky and Herman in the propaganda model. We need to ask ourselves what does this mean for democracy? How do we combat this elite totality where those that are in power are so connected to those that report on power and those that lobby for the interests of corporate power?