Conservative Voice Ltd: Inside An Agenda-Setting Machine

Following Boris Johnson’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party, a prominent campaign group that claims to be “a place for the grassroots to make themselves heard” has begun polling its members about who should replace him. Conservative Voice, like many other Tory organisations, are now scrambling to influence the direction of the party. The group itself has registered funding from only one wealthy Conservative donor, and is run by Thatcherite party activists and pro-Brexit, think-tank alumni.

In 2020, climate activist George Monbiot highlighted the increasing number, and power, of organisations he referred to collectively as the “infrastructure of persuasion”. The groups Monbiot discussed, which seek to frame and direct UK political discourse, include right-wing think-tanks, lobbyists, PR firms and single issue campaigners. Political pressure groups, which seek to set the agenda from within a particular party, can also be included.

In this case study of the Conservative Voice board, we will see how these different kinds of organisations, identified by Monbiot, often overlap and interconnect within a single campaign group. The activities of groups, such as CV, are in nor way illegal or improper, but they do illustrate the powerful interests potentially at play, even within organisations claiming to represent the grassroots of a party.

CONSERVATIVE VOICE LTD

Conservative Voice, which describes itself as “the fastest growing group within the conservative family”, has registered £70,000 in donations from Baron Peter Cruddas since 2016. Cruddas was controversially nominated for a peerage by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020. To date, he is estimated to have donated over £3 million to the Conservative Party, and £1 million to the Vote Leave campaign, of which he was a co-founder.

Conservative Voice Ltd was incorporated as a private limited company in March 2015. It is registered as an unincorporated association. Historically they have donated to three MPs in total, splitting £8,600 between Siobhan Baillie, Gavin Barwell and Alistair Burt. The company’s last registered net assets were £22,763.

The “about” page from the CV website states that, amongst other things, CV believes in “Standing up for the United Kingdom and the British way of life, with a foreign policy that protects Britain’s standing in the world” and “that Britain should take full advantage of the economic and political opportunities presented by leaving the European Union.” The FB page has 4,000 followers.

Conservative Voice did not respond to a request for further information regarding how the organisation is funded and what influence its membership has over policy decisions and direction.

WHOSE VOICE?

Below are the profiles of the Conservative Voice “Core Team” who are ostensibly responsible for running the organisation and determining its agenda.

ALEX LE VEY

Co-Founder of Conservative Voice, Alex Le Vey is also a director and trustee of a controversial pro-Brexit think-tank called the Politics and Economics Research Trust. The Trust, which was investigated by the charity commission for it’s funding of groups such as the Taxpayer’s Alliance, includes Matthew Elliott as its former secretary. (Elliott, who co-founded Vote Leave with Peter Cruddas, is also a former director of the Taxpayer’s Alliance). Le Vey previously worked as a development director at the conservative think-tank Centre For Social Justice.

RICHARD MURPHY

Murphy is listed as Conservative Voice’s “Specialist Campaigns’ Training Consultant.” He has been a Tory Party activist for 30 years in various roles; as Head of CCHQ Field Campaigning he worked with eight Party leaders, including “the incomparable Margaret Thatcher”. Murphy was also the National Campaign Director for the pro-Brexit “Grassroots Out campaign” in 2016. Bankrolled by Arron Banks, GO was founded by, amongst others, Richard Tice and Nigel Farage. GO was run by Alex Deane, who is also currently a trustee of the aforementioned Politics and Economics Research Trust. Murphy owns political consultancy firm Communication Strategy & Management Ltd.

DON PORTER

Co-Founder of Conservative Voice, Don Porter CBE has been an influential apparatchik of the Tory Party machine for 4 decades. He has previously served on the Board of the Party, as Chairman of the National Convention and as head of the collective Tory Party Association of Chairmen. He has also been a trustee of the Conservative Agents Benevolent Association. He is a co-founder and joint managing director of corporate consultancy firm MSB with CV director Brian Hamill (see below). Porter also served as Chairman of Thatcherite pressure group Conservative Way Forward (revived this year by new chairman Steve Baker MP.) Conservative Way Forward was originally “launched after Margaret Thatcher was ousted as Tory leader. Its aim was to promote her beliefs and values throughout the Conservative Party.”

BRIAN HAMILL

Third Co-Founder of CV, Brian Hamill has also been deeply embedded in the Tory party network for decades. He, with Don Porter, is also a Trustee of the Conservative Agents Benevolent Association and a National Treasurer of the Conservative Party. He co-founded MSB consultancy.

ALICJA BORKOWSKA

Alicja Borkowska is a “firm Brexiteer” who was “actively involved in the Vote Leave campaign from its earliest days”. She has worked on both the “Back Boris” campaign and Iain Duncan Smiths general election campaign. She has stood as Conservative candidate in local council elections and as a journalist she describes meeting Margaret Thatcher as a “dream come true”.

JOSH LAMBKIN

Lambkin is a partner at political consultancy firm Pagefield. Pagefield was founded by prominent political lobbyist and Brexit campaigner Mark Gallagher.

BARON PETER CRUDDAS

When asked about his financial support of Conservative Voice, and what involvement he has in the management and political direction of the group, Baron Cruddas stated:

“I have no involvement in the management/running whatsoever in Conservative Voice today and in the past. I chose CV because I know Don Porter and Brian very well.. [they] have always been in touch with front line Conservatives, organising election canvassing and campaigning including mobilising campaign volunteers effectively. They have great experience from their time working for the voluntary service of the Conservative Party. They also have eminent guest speakers that will talk to ordinary Conservatives about topical issues. I believe Don and Brian are doing a great job in relating to Conservative Volunteers up and down the country.”

conclusion

So is Conservative Voice “a place for the grassroots to make themselves heard”, or is it a nexus for right-wing think-tanks, lobbyists, PR firms and single issue campaigners to influence what those grassroots say?

Organisations such as these can wield an immense, and disproportionate, amount of power within political parties. One example of this from our own research is Labour pressure group Labour Together, which purposefully destabilised the Party under elected leader Jeremy Corbyn, and continues to act as a vehicle for powerful interests.

What should frontline activists, of any political colour, be aware of when engaging with organisations such as this, that claim to represent their interests but are run by powerful agents of the infrastructure?

If the current poll run by Conservative Voice shows a distaste amongst its members for another leader embedded in a pro-Brexit, Thatcherite network, would those responsible for the group campaign on that mandate, or seek to re-direct that membership?

Who is persuading who?


Follow Sean Rankin on Twitter: @ClydesiderRed

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