Lynton Crosby, the election guru and businessman, has been attending Boris Johnson’s 8.30am meetings in No 10, showing he is more involved in the prime minister’s decision making than previously thought.
The Australian political strategist, whose advisory firm has represented tobacco as well as oil and gas interests, is known to have been helping Johnson remotely over his leadership woes but his involvement in the regular meetings shows he appears to have taken a much greater role than before.
Crosby runs CT Group – a government affairs, polling and research company – as well as advising political leaders on their electoral strategy. His return to advising Johnson has coincided with a shift to the right as the prime minister tries to bolster his standing with that wing of the party and those who elected him 2019.
A No 10 source confirmed that Crosby had attended some morning meetings, but insisted these were party political rather than official government ones.
A government spokesperson said: “Lynton Crosby is not a government employee. Any assistance to the prime minister would be party political and in his capacity as leader of the Conservative party.”
A second source said he also sometimes attended in-person, entering No 10 via a more discreet entrance in the Cabinet Office. They claimed that officials had raised concerns about his attendance.
Labour’s Fleur Anderson, the shadow paymaster general, said the revelations were “deeply alarming and raise questions about whether Crosby has inappropriate access to high-level government decision making”.
She added: “Given his business interests in sectors such as oil and gas, the potential conflicts of interest are seriously concerning, especially if they have not been declared.
“This stinks of yet more Tory cronyism at the highest levels. The public deserve proper transparency and the PM must come clean on the role that Crosby plays in his government.”
A CT Group spokesperson said it was “engaged to provide strategic advice to the Conservative party and its leader” and that Crosby, as its chief executive, “provides that advice from time to time”.
They added that “the company complies fully with requirements under the Lobbying Act regarding the disclosure of clients”.
Crosby was handed a knighthood after he helped the Conservatives secure a majority in the 2015 general election, when the party was led by David Cameron.
During Johnson’s rocky period with Conservative MPs when the Partygate scandal first broke, he proudly told them he was enlisting Crosby’s services again as a means of trying to regain the party’s lead in the polls.
The pair were said to already have been working together prior to February, though relations between them had cooled after the general election in late 2019.
Crosby had helped with Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign, which resulted in him becoming prime minister in July 2019 after Theresa May stepped down. The cooling of relations was partly fuelled by tensions over the role of the prime minister’s now-wife, Carrie Johnson but he has come back into the prime minister’s sphere of influence in the last year.
The Guardian can also reveal that David Canzini, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff and a former employee of CT Group, last week ordered an urgent review of work conducted by polling companies across government departments.
The Cabinet Office wrote to senior Whitehall leaders last week asking them to audit the work done by 10 polling firms at Canzini’s request, including YouGov, Ipsos Mori, Kantar, Savanta and TNS.
They were given five days to respond to the urgent request, with an edict to include all work, not just on the subject of communications.
A government spokesperson said: “This is part of our routine and ongoing work looking at how public funds are spent to ensure maximum value for money.”
Source: The Guardian