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Fri 19 July 2019
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The former Mayor of London and Foreign Secretary is on manoeuvres this summer: James Hanning explores the possible pipelines of money fueling him.

One constant in politics is that Boris Johnson wants to be Prime Minister. He was out campaigning last weekend, in Tamworth. He voted in the local elections in South Oxfordshire, where he has a home, and made sure his Twitter followers knew about it.

In Johnson’s mind, the person best placed to get him to Downing Street is Australian uber-lobbyist Sir Lynton Crosby, who 11 years ago turned him from a scatty, dissembling, errant labrador into a two-term mayor of London. Johnson has written: “Lynton Crosby is simply the best campaign manager and political strategist I have ever encountered or even heard of”.

It would be astonishing if a plan is not in place. To cite one of Crosby’s favourite phrases: “You can’t fatten a pig on market day.”

Crosby’s company Crosby Textor Fullbrook (CTF) has acquired the sort of reputation that makes people jump out of windows. They are winners, and clients pay top dollar for their services. In February The Guardian reported that CTF had asked for £300,000 a month to lobby for the 2022 World Cup to be moved from Qatar.  Crosby does not come cheap.

So who might stump up for the sort of advice that makes Boris get his hair cut, eschew the open-goal cheap gags and regularise his domestic arrangements? There are plenty of candidates among the City of London’s hedge funders, many of them pro-Brexit libertarians with the sort of wealth that ensures they are never short of friends.

Back in October hedge funder Crispin Odey said he would support the Johnson leadership bid once the campaign began, but nobody knows when that will be. It would be astonishing, knowing Crosby’s attention to detail (if not Boris’s), if a plan is not in place.  To cite one of Crosby’s favourite phrases: “You can’t fatten a pig on market day.”

Johnson recently received donations from chairman Lord (Anthony) Bamford, formerly a Cameron supporter, who seems likely to chip in further. Another ex-Cameroon, Lord (Jonathan) Marland, formerly a Tory Treasurer, is also in the frame, as are Anglo-Australian hedgefunder Michael Hintze,  and controversial Christopher Moran, who at 71 remains as eager as ever to be part of a successful Conservative Party. Both are close to Lynton Crosby. Another hedgefunder, Jon Wood, has also recently made a donation.

Picture by Chris Ison

But is Boris really having his card marked by Crosby, as Westminster seems to assume? The Sunday Times, for example, reported confidently in December that “Crosby continues to advise Boris Johnson” although sources in the office insist CTF’s David Canzini – who is working on Brexit – is not advising on the leadership. CTF will not engage with the subject at all, refusing to answer questions. Johnson’s office, when told it looks very much as if Crosby is advising him, did not demur.

What is the financial basis of the arrangement? The Commons’s declaration of interests reveals that in December Crosby loaned Johnson £20,000 interest-free, for ‘staff and office’ purposes. In mid-January, Johan Christofferson, a banker, donated £20,000 to Boris’s office, and three days later Boris repaid the loan to Crosby.  Crosby donated a further £3,000 to Boris’s office.

But Crosby standing in as Boris’s part-time banker is surely not the main story. It’s his professional skills that interest Westminster.


Conservative Party Leadership Campaign

To win the leadership, a candidate needs to be one of a final two selected by Conservative MPs. The Tory party’s members will then choose from those two. In normal times, this first part of the campaign is a financially modest affair. “The Westminster ballot is not expensive, £100,000 at most,” says one figure well versed in Westminster turf wars.

“[Lynton Crosby] works it out with all of his strange algorithms, polling, part sorcery, part science.”

Boris Johnson

The conventional view is that if Johnson makes the final two, he is likely to win on the membership ballot, so his opponents in Westminster will want to keep him out of the last two. Johnson’s team, by contrast, will be anxious to ensure that he, rather than Dominic Raab, is the most pro-Brexit candidate in the run-off. To that end, reportedly former MP and David Davis chief of staff Stewart Jackson has been enlisted, as has MP James Wharton, in Johnson’s office.

For the moment, there is a happy conjunction between supporting Brexit (on which Crosby is working with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group), and in particular opposing a second referendum, and being essentially supportive of Boris Johnson and his beliefs.

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For example, there are labour-intensive and costly pro no-deal Brexit campaigns on Facebook which share an administrator who works for CTF, the Guardian has revealed. So those wealthy City figures who employ CTF may be if not wholly inadvertently then conveniently taking a position that assists Johnson. But it may be that Crosby’s position would be that for now nobody is working explicitly on Johnson’s campaign, they are merely pulling in the same pro-Brexit direction.

That may explain why the only reference to CTF under Johnson’s name is the loan and small donation mentioned above. Equally, that may be about to change.

Last week The Times reported a Tory MP as saying that Lynton was “coming on board” to help with the Johnson leadership campaign, although some saw that as way of undermining reports of tensions between Johnson, never much of a fan of message discipline, and Crosby, whose control is positively Mourinho-like.

“For Lynton the real win isn’t how much he can get from Boris in helping run his leadership election,” says a seasoned Crosby-watching Tory, “but by ensuring Boris wins he puts CTF in line to make millions.”

In 2013 Johnson said: “He works it out with all of his strange algorithms, polling, part sorcery, part science, and he presents you with this stuff that makes you focus on the things that really matter. He makes sure you are really connecting with what you say…” For a cavalier like Johnson, the appeal might pall, and the loyal Crosby has hinted as much in the past.

But what of the money? Some insist there is a paid campaign, possibly at “mates’ rates”, in which case presumably a declaration of interests (whether “in kind” or otherwise) cannot be far off. But a former associate says that is not really the point. “Lynton has a very powerful network,” he says. “He is capable of in effect self-funding that by just arranging a dinner with rich individuals who agree with Lynton and Boris and their world view and just tapping them up.”

And there is another prize. Criticism was voiced after his unsuccessful campaign to have Zac Goldsmith elected mayor of London in 2016. The General Election campaign the following year, generally seen as a near-disaster, was blamed by some close to Theresa May on CTF, and senior Conservatives have hinted the party will look elsewhere next time around.

“For Lynton the real win isn’t how much he can get from Boris in helping run his leadership election,” says a seasoned Crosby-watching Tory, “but by ensuring Boris wins he puts CTF in line to make millions.”

CTF made £4 million from the last campaign.

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