Starmer assistant among active corporate lobbyists working for shadow cabinet

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Original article by Adam Ramsay republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Image of Labour leader Keir Starmer and party chair Anneliese Dodds.
Image of Labour leader Keir Starmer and party chair Anneliese Dodds. A staffer in Starmer’s office works for consultancy firm Grant Thornton, while a Weber Shandwick lobbyist had a six-month stint in Dodds’ office

A staff member in Keir Starmer’s office is selling his knowledge of “politics, government and public policy issues” to corporate clients through a major consultancy firm, openDemocracy can reveal.

The staffer, who joined Starmer’s team in the summer, is listed as an associate director of Grant Thornton. The arrangement does not breach any regulations because Labour is not in power, though equivalent roles advising government ministers come with an obligation that holders must not “misuse your official position, for example by using information acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interests or those of others”.

Corporate lobbying firms have started expanding their offerings to clients who are looking to influence a likely Labour government next year. In November, it was reported that two major lobbying outfits had set up ‘Labour Units’ to help clients influence the party.

Over the past year, three other corporate lobbyists have had roles advising the shadow cabinet while still employed by their corporate bosses, and another ten former corporate lobbyists are now working in the offices of members of the shadow cabinet, analysis by this website has found.

Nick Dearden, director of the campaign group Global Justice Now, called it “yet more evidence that there’s a revolving door between big business and the top layers of the Labour Party”.

While Starmer’s staffer appears to work for Grant Thornton and Labour simultaneously, the other three had jobs in the offices of shadow cabinet members that were directly funded by lobbying firms in the form of secondments. One of these was placed in the office of Labour’s chair and equalities chief Anneliese Dodds for six months, while two more have been placed with shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds. Throughout their time in Parliament, their salaries were paid by the lobbying firms, none of which would disclose to openDemocracy whether any of their clients had funded the work.

Starmer’s staffer was formerly head of Grant Thornton’s Brexit advisory team. A page on the firm’s website advertises his knowledge of “politics, government and public policy issues” to corporate clients. He says he can “help our clients make sense of the current macroeconomic and political environment, providing insight and practical advice on what it means for them and their business”.

With a revenue of more than $7bn last year, Grant Thornton is one of the world’s largest professional services networks, offering clients a range of consultancy services. Its clients and partners in recent years have included the arms company BAE Systems, coal miners Adani and a range of oil and gas firms. In 2021, the firm was fined £2.3m for its involvement in the collapse of the bakery chain Patisserie Valerie. And last year, the company was found guilty of bribing officials in Western Australia.

The staff member appears to work part time on Keir Starmer’s team, and part time selling his political insights through Grant Thornton. Last year, before he took the role, he wrote a blog on Grant Thornton’s website discussing the likely priorities of a future Labour government.

A spokesperson for Grant Thornton would not disclose which clients their associate director had been advising since he started working for Starmer, or how he managed any conflict of interest.

They said: “As a leading provider of professional services in the UK, Grant Thornton has deep expertise in the public sector and has worked with a variety of government bodies and institutions over the years where our nonpartisan input has been of value. Whilst any such engagements will be a matter of public record, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on any specifics.”

In recent years, Grant Thornton has benefited from more than 300 public sector contracts in the UK. It also supports hundreds of major corporations on a range of projects, from the private healthcare sector to the oil and gas industry.

Two other staff members in Starmer’s office are former lobbyists who worked at the firm InHouse Communications, whose clients have included Google, e-cigarette company Juul, and a number of major alcohol brands. Starmer’s press officer worked for the firm until August last year, while one of Labour’s communications chiefs was previously a director at the firm.

Dodds, the Labour Party chair and equalities spokesperson, had a senior Weber Shandwick London staffer seconded to work in her office from September 2022 to March 2023. The staffer’s roles at the firm’s London office have included senior vice president and team director for corporate enterprise. Since her secondment ended, she has been heading up another team at Weber Shandwick. The company would not say whether she now has any involvement in lobbying Labour.

Weber Shandwick is perhaps most controversial for its historic role lobbying on behalf of the tobacco industry, and was recently linked to at least eight oil and gas companies, some of which have been accused of opposing or seeking to delay net zero policies. The firm also lobbies on behalf of the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry as a whole.

Weber Shandwick also represents private healthcare firms.

Former clients of Dodds’ staffer before her secondment to Labour include the snacks giant Mondelez, which owns brands including Cadbury’s chocolate. In recent years, Mondelez has been involved in opposing health measures like a sugar tax, faced legal action over alleged child slavery, and been accused of involvement in illegal rainforest deforestation. Mondelez has said it has “been working relentlessly to take a stand against” child labour, which it claims to prohibit, and says it has taken steps to ensure its chocolate doesn’t come from illegally deforested national parks.

The staffer’s other previous clients have included the estate and letting agency Knight Frank, the French spirits giant Pernod Ricard, which has been battling India’s alcohol tax over the last year and is a sponsor of the Labour Party conference, and the takeaway Just Eat, which has also given free events tickets to a number of Labour figures over the last year.

openDemocracy asked Dodds’s office what it thought Weber Shandwick had to gain by funding a staff member for six months and was told: “You’d have to ask Weber Shandwick.” Weber Shandwick did not respond to our request for comment.

From September to October 2022, a staffer was seconded from the PR and lobbying firm the Lowick Group to work in the office of shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds. Immediately before the secondment, he had worked as a lobbyist for another firm, Westminster Digital, best known for running Boris Johnson’s online campaign during the 2019 election, though he did not work there at the time.

Another one of Reynolds’ seconded staffers is a senior policy manager at HSBC, which was forced by US regulators in 2013 to pay then-record fines of more than a billion dollars after being found to be the “preferred financial institution” of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.

Before working for HSBC, she was registered as a lobbyist for Portland Communications, a major lobbying agency.

As well as shadow cabinet staffers currently working as corporate lobbyists or political advisers, openDemocracy has found ten staffers for shadow cabinet members who previously worked as corporate lobbyists.

‘Worrying’

Responding to the revelations, the Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “Under this Conservative government we’ve seen the endless revolving door between MPs, Ministers and big business reach new heights. It’s deeply worrying that Labour already look set to follow in their footsteps.

“If they form the next government, they mustn’t be in the back pocket of any industry – we urgently need policies and legislation that consistently prioritise the greater public good over letting big corporations trouser ever bigger profits.”

Tommy Sheppard, MP for Edinburgh East and SNP constitutional affairs spokesperson said: “This is shocking and quite extraordinary news. I’ve not been aware of this before – I’ve known special advisers who went to work for Weber Shandwick, but I’ve never known people ride both horses at once.

“Labour ought to be aware that these companies are not doing this on behalf of the Labour Party – they are doing it because they want to influence [a potential future] government on behalf of corporate clients.”

He added: “Labour need to be more careful about where they take their staffers from.”

Dearden told openDemocracy: “Many parts of society with an alternative vision of the future are finding it really hard to even get a single meeting with shadow ministers.

“A Labour government in hock to corporate interests will be a very short-lived Labour government. The world has changed. Across the US, Europe and the emerging economies, the economic myths of the last 40 years are being punctured. Big business lobbyists do not have the answer to the problems we face. If Labour wants to govern successfully, they need to start listening to a much wider pool of people.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Employment and secondment arrangements have been transparently declared in line with legal requirements and parliamentary rules.”

Original article by Adam Ramsay republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

UK Labour Party hires former Israeli spy

The UK Labour Party has hired a former Israeli spy to help manage its social media, The Electronic Intifada can reveal.

Assaf Kaplan will work in the office of Labour leader Keir Starmer, a source with knowledge of the hire said.

Kaplan was in Israeli military intelligence for nearly five years, an officer in Unit 8200, its cyberwarfare branch.

Unit 8200 specializes in spying, hacking and encryption. It carries out blackmail, mass surveillance and systematic discrimination against Palestinians.

Continue ReadingStarmer assistant among active corporate lobbyists working for shadow cabinet

Airlines downplayed science on climate impact to block new regulations

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Original article by Ben Webster and Lucas Amin republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Campaigners say the lobbying tactics used to argue against tougher measures on emissions echo those of the 20th century tobacco industry

Image of a dirty passenger aircraft

Airlines have been accused of using a “typical climate denialist” strategy after downplaying decades of scientific research on aviation emissions to block tougher regulations.

Campaigners said the lobbying tactics echoed those of the 20th century tobacco industry, which fought stricter measures by magnifying minor doubts on the health risks of smoking.

Documents obtained by openDemocracy show airlines and airports privately told the government there was too much uncertainty about the additional warming effects of flights to justify introducing new policies to tackle them.

But senior climate scientists contradicted the industry’s claims, saying the science is well established on what are known as aviation’s “non-CO2 effects”.

These are caused by emissions at high altitude of water, nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, with aircraft vapour trails, also known as contrails, a particular problem because they form clouds at high altitude that trap heat radiated from the Earth.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in a special report in 1999 that the total historic impact of aviation on the climate was two to four times greater than from its CO2 emissions alone.

Research in 2021 largely confirmed those findings and concluded aviation emissions were warming the climate at “approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone”. An EU study from 2020 also found non-CO2 emissions warm the planet about twice as much as CO2 emissions, but acknowledged there were “significant uncertainties”.

The Department for Transport considered regulating these non-CO2 impacts and asked for views on the issue in a consultation in 2021 on its proposed “Jet Zero strategy”.

Responses from airlines and airports, obtained under FOI by openDemocracy, reveal several used the same tactic of arguing the science was too uncertain to justify policies to address non-CO2 effects. Several recommended instead that the government should limit its action on the issue to funding further research into it.

‘A bit of a joke’

Airlines UK, a trade body that lobbies for airlines including British Airways (BA), easyJet and Virgin Atlantic, told the DfT that “the science around these [non-CO2 impacts] is not yet robust enough to form reduction targets”.

When asked during the Jet Zero consultation what could be done to tackle non-CO2 impacts, Ryanair said it was “too early to say until impact is better understood”.

Low-cost airline Wizz Air told the DfT: “There is too high a level of uncertainty of non-CO2 emission contribution to climate change for a policy to be formed.”

Airlines UK, Ryanair and Wizz – alongside others across the industry – called on the DfT to instead fund further research into the science of non-CO2 impacts.

The tactic appears to have worked, with the DfT announcing in the Jet Zero strategy last year that more work would be done with scientists and the industry to understand the issue.

The DfT did, however, say the government was “exploring whether and how non-CO2 impacts could be included in the scope of the UK ETS (emissions trading scheme)”.

Professor Piers Forster, an atmospheric physicist and member of the independent Climate Change Committee, told openDemocracy it was “completely wrong” for the aviation industry to claim the science on aviation’s non-CO2 effects was too uncertain to address them.

He said: “It’s a bit of a joke to say the effects are too uncertain to do anything about. We see their contrails and we’ve known for over 20 years that they are warming the planet. The industry should not hide behind uncertainty.”

He added that “the non-CO2 effects absolutely have to be accounted for in some way and action should be taken to reduce them”.

Milan Klöwer, a climate physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said airlines were adopting a “typical climate denialist strategy” by overstating the level of uncertainty about non-CO2 effects.

“Even in the best case they roughly double the effect of CO2 emissions on the climate,” he said.

He called on airlines to start accounting for their non CO2 effects and invest more in solutions, such as alternative fuels, which reduced those effects.

Rob Bryher, aviation campaigner at climate charity Possible, said: “These documents show that airlines cannot be trusted to decarbonise on their own. Demand management solutions like a frequent flyer levy, introducing fuel duty, carbon pricing, or management of airport capacity are going to be crucial.”

Matt Finch, UK policy manager of campaign group Transport & Environment, said: “Aviation’s non-CO2 impacts are somewhere between huge and absolutely massive. But the industry doesn’t want you to know that. Instead of confronting its environmental problems head-on, the industry copies the tobacco industry of the ’50s and the oil industry of the ’70s in casting doubt and disbelief around the science.”

BA said it was working with academics and experts on non-CO2 impacts of flying while Sustainable Aviation, an industry group that includes airlines, said it was committing to addressing them but reiterated more research was needed. Wizz Air said it was already addressing the impacts through a range of measures.

Some airlines ignore non-CO2 effects in schemes they support to help passengers calculate and offset the emissions of their flights.

BA’s emissions calculator states a one way flight from London Heathrow to New York emits 348kg CO2E (carbon dioxide equivalent) and charges £3.97 for offsetting.

Atmosfair, a German non-profit organisation which supports the decarbonisation of flying, calculates the same journey on a Boeing 777-200 – an aircraft type used by BA – emits 896kg and charges 21 euros (£18.37) for offsetting. Atmosfair’s emissions total comprises 308kg of CO2 emissions and 587 kg equivalent for “climate impact of contrails, ozone formation etc”.

While the DfT has so far failed to act on non-CO2 effects, they are mentioned in official advice to companies from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy on how to report their emissions.

It says: “Organisations should include the indirect effects of non-CO2 emissions when reporting air travel emissions to capture the full climate impact of their travel.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “Our Jet Zero Strategy confirmed our aim of addressing the non-CO2 impacts of aviation, by developing our understanding of their impact and possible solutions, and the UK is one of the leading countries working to address this issue.”

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

International Airlines Group (IAG), which owns BA, Vueling and Aer Lingus, told DfT’s Jet Zero consultation it could address non-CO2 emissions by supporting “sustainable aviation fuel” (SAF).

SAF is a jet fuel made from sources which the industry claims are sustainable, including cooking oil and animal fat. It performs in a similar way to kerosene but can produce up to 80% less CO2 depending on how it is made. It potentially also reduces contrails.

IAG told the Jet Zero consultation SAF was “the only viable solution for decarbonising medium and long haul flights”, which account for about 70% of global aviation emissions.

But further documents obtained by openDemocracy reveal IAG then lobbied the DfT to water down its SAF mandate.

In response to a separate consultation, IAG argued the SAF mandate should only cover flights within the UK or to the EU, and not the long haul flights on which British Airways makes most of its profits.

IAG also lobbied against a proposal to ban airlines from dodging the mandate by filling their tanks with cheap kerosene at overseas airports – a practice known as “tankering”.

A BBC Panorama investigation in 2019 revealed tankering by BA and other airlines was creating small financial savings but unnecessary carbon emissions.

IAG also argued against a proposal aimed at building demand for “power-to-liquid” jet fuel, which is produced by combining hydrogen made by renewable energy with carbon captured from the atmosphere.

Unlike other so-called sustainable jet fuels, power-to-liquid fuel does not involve a feedstock needed by other industries to decarbonise, such as used cooking oil or animal fat.

IAG called it “a very expensive pathway to directly decarbonise aviation”.

Sustainable Aviation, an industry group that includes airlines, said: “We are committed to addressing [non-CO2] impacts based on the scientific evidence, but further research is key to developing effective mitigation solutions, for example the use of sustainable aviation fuels (which contain lower contrail forming particulates), alongside steps such as optimising flight routes to avoid contrail formation.”

BA, IAG’s principal airline, said: “We are actively engaging with academics, experts within the industry and the government’s Jet Zero Council to take proactive steps to look into non-CO2 impact.”

Wizz Air said it was mitigating non-CO2 effects “through route optimisation and jet fuel improvements” and by using Airbus A321neo aircraft which reduced NOx emissions by 50%.

Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment.

Original article by Ben Webster and Lucas Amin republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingAirlines downplayed science on climate impact to block new regulations