Hidden:The secret influencers bankrolling centre right think tanks to change your mind


Policy Exchange – direct line to government but secret about donors. Here Theresa May address a seminar as home secretary Pic Credit: Flickr


An important report was published today by  Transparify , examining British think tanks whose reports and proceedings influence government policy on anything from education to health, and attitudes to smoking and climate change.

What it reveals is that while a number of British think tanks are open about who funds them – including the Institute for Government, Transparency International and the Overseas Development Institute- and some like RUSI ( the Royal United Services Institute )have improved their transparency – some of the most influential think tanks which impact on current Tory government policy are extremely secretive.

Nearly all of the secretive think tanks are on the Right of the spectrum. They are the Adam Smith Institute,Policy Exchange, the Centre for Policy Studies,Policy Network, Civitas,the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

What the report reveals is that the largely US financed Adam Smith Institute – a firm advocate of privatisation and libertarian thinking particularly over smoking- does not disclose ANY details of its donors or where it gets its money . It is dominated by a sister organisation Adam Smith International (UK) ltd, which receives British taxpayers money and World Bank cash  for advising foreign governments and has a turnover £130m. Adam Smith International has its own website  which does provide details of its projects and staff- and shows its projects vary from assisting privatisation to good governance. It only has one project in Jordan tackling climate change.

ASI’s American equivalent, according to the report, has filed a tax return showing it has received $1.2 million in donations but only spent just over $5000 in the US.

The Centre for Policy Studies, according to the report, has been active in fighting further regulation of the tobacco industry. It does not disclose its donors.

The Institute of Economic Affairs, according to the report, also has had backing from tobacco companies. It also claims it managed to change Government policy over the funding of charities financed by a ” mystery ” donor.

The report says : “In early 2016, The Independent reported that the IEA had “secured [a] change in government policy” on the back of a £15,000 donation from a “mystery donor” whose identity the IEA refused to reveal. The IEA told the newspaper that it had met with ministers or officials “as often as we were able” to discuss the proposal with them.”

Policy Exchange – which is a very active think tank with frequent debates involving MPs from all parties – and  very influential.  It was forced to withdraw large sections of one study The hijacking of  British Islam which controversially named mosques up and down Britain of spreading hate speech – which turned out to be untrue. Again we do not know all the donors to Policy Exchange but we do know it has strong links with ministers, including Lord Maude, a former civil service minister.

According to the Sunday Times, Policy Network was initially bankrolled by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a banker who by 2002 had reportedly donated £250,000 to the organisation. It is had not published details of donors for two years and is dominated by prominent Labour right wingers. Its president is Lord Mandelson who runs his own lobbying consultancy Global Counsel.

Finally there is the case of  the International Institute for Strategic Studies which appear to be transparent but missed out donations totalling £25m from one big donor, Bahrain.

Leaked papers revealed that secret memorandum of understanding had been drawn up between the think tank and Bahrain’s ruler to fund the organisation. The report says:

The Guardian reported a figure of £25 million, noting that this would account for “more than a quarter of IISS’s income“. Compiling data from multiple sources, pro-democracy group Bahrain Watch arrived at a figure of £30 million, corresponding to just over a third of IISS‟ overall income. The Middle East Eye published calculations according to which Bahraini funds may add up to nearly half of total IISS income.”

Given Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, as reported on this blog, launched his new ” East of Suez” policy in Bahrain – it appears that Britain will be driven to defending Bahrain should a new wave of Arab unrest spread. It now appears in return that Bahrain will be in a strong position to influence the British government to present itself as a modern liberal society when it is obviously not the full picture.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against the Adam Smith Institute, Policy Exchange or the Institute for Economic Affairs campaigning on any issue they want in a democratic society – including if they want to take up issues raised by tobacco companies or climate change.

But I am against secret backers using think tanks to try and influence government – and  public debate from  behind the scenes – and creating the illusion that these bodies are simply independent researchers with no agenda.

Transparify have done an invaluable job in drawing attention to this. The full report which has not been funded from external sources is here.






Revealed: Boris’s Imperialist dream: £3 billion for military adventures ” East of Suez”


Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson


The row over Boris’s clumsy intervention over ” proxy  wars ” and ” puppeteering ” by  Saudi Arabia in the brutal war in Yemen has somewhat obscured what Britain is really up to in the Middle East.

The full text of Boris Johnson’s speech to his Arab audience in Bahrain released by the Foreign Office at the weekend reveals that we are going to be spending vast sums of public money propping up the  undemocratic and inhumane regimes run by wealthy Arab Sheikhs  in return for their investment in Britain. We are reviving plans for a world military role ” East of Suez”.

All this at a  time when Theresa May is committed to retaining austerity at home well after 2020 with  all that entails in cuts to disabled benefits, social care,public services and restricting the growth of the NHS.

Boris began his speech by boasting how his new foreign policy overturned Harold Wilson’s 1968  Labour Cabinet decision to withdraw Britain’s troops from Borneo,Singapore and the Middle East. He showed extraordinary affinity for the then foreign secretary, George Brown, who like Boris, was a very colourful figure once found in the gutter after a particularly hard night’s drinking..

He described his decision as ” a triumphant vindication” for  the ” brilliant “George Brown over  Europhile Roy Jenkins  who with a ” frog like beam ” was determined to get Britain into Europe ( how Brexiteers love to damn Europhiles even way back to 1968!).

But it was the picture he drew for Britain’s future role for” centuries to come ” that was the most revealing.

He pledged that Britain would be involved in any future crisis in Gulf – which given the present volatile situation is no mean commitment.

As he put it “:any crisis in the Gulf is a crisis for Britain – from day one; that your security is our security ” and that ” your interests military, economic, political – are intertwined with our own..”

He goes on to cite  the billions Britain is spending for new military engagements in the Middle East.

This includes:Reopening HMS Jufair, a naval support facility  in Bahrain, which His Majesty the King of Bahrain,Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he remembered from his childhood before our disengagement.

Basing  Britain’s Gulf Defence Staff in Dubai.

Developing the Al-Minhad air base in the United Arab Emirates providing a hub for the RAF.

Establishing a Regional Land Training centre for the British army – one of only four in the world.

As Boris put it : “Britain has in total 1,500 military personnel in the region and 7 warships, more than any other Western nation apart from the US.  We are spending £3 billion on our military commitments in the Gulf over the next 10 years and that is deepening a partnership that is stronger than with any other group of nations in the world outside NATO.”

So what is the pay back.?So much Arab money is pouring into London that the city is becoming a Gulf owned state. Boris named the capital as the 8th Emirate.

As he put it : “London is sometimes called the eighth Emirate. I think I may have made that up myself, but we’re proud of it.”

And he detailed how much retail estate is owned by Gulf states in London.

The Qataris own The Shard, Olympic Village,Harrods, and Chelsea Barracks.

The UAE owns the Excel exhibition centre in Docklands and the Tidal Array in the Thames Estuary . And there is the Emirates cable car across the Thames.

The Gulf states own the DP World Port. which has replaced London Docklands.

And even City Hall the seat of London government is owned by Kuwait.


As Boris said :” I didn’t know it until today but I’m stunned to find out.”.

Of course the foreign secretary stated that Britain gains from exports to the Middle East – from Marks and Spencer to military equipment and even sand for golf bunkers.

However after Britain’s bruising encounter in Iraq it seems the Tories are rapidly becoming the main defenders of a group of very wealthy Arabs – all of whom ( it has happened already) could face uprisings in the future from their own people.

Britain would have to defend them or see large swathes of the capital being owned by the very people who have overthrown them or if there is war – by another country.

I am not sure how keen the British people will be to get involved – but for the Tories ( although they were careful not to say it) it has smacks of returning to the glory days of Empire and Rule Britannia. That could be a very big mistake.





Predators stalk the corpse of London’s failing private fire firm

Not their vehicle but the symbolic state of AssetCo. Pic courtesy: TheScottishSun

Like encircling vultures, bidders across the globe are now looking  at the dying corpse of AssetCo, the floundering private fire company, for a cheap buy  as it shares hover around-3-5p mark.

Virtually all the bidders are potential asset strippers looking to buy cheap and then re-sell the company for a potential fast buck. Here is the full list, as far as I can glean. They have some interesting baggage as well.

Still with a bid on the table – but nowhere near the earlier offer of 14-21p a share- is Arcapita Bank  a Bahrain based company run by a wealthy Saudi.

The bank has run up big losses because of the credit crisis and lack of easy credit from financial institutions for private equity speculations. Its latest accounts (2010) post losses of $559 million. It is currently refinancing a $ 1.1 loan by raising cash from shareholders.

It makes its money in US, UK, Singapore and Far East and the Gulf by investing in firms for about seven yrs, restructuring them, and reselling them at a profit. (can be anything from clothing, aircraft manufacturers, retirement homes, dentistry and electricity).

Its most controversial investment is in Cypress Communications, a US high tech company, providing firewalls for US companies. Its bid became embroiled in a row when Arcapita’s chairman, Mohammed Abdukaziz Al Jomaih (27th wealthiest  person in Arab rich list) was accused of secretly financing Osama Bin Laden. His name is on seized list obtained in an anti-terror raid in Bosnia. He claims that he is not the person on the named list but that it is someone with the same name who is conveniently now dead.

Despite this Arcapita found itself forced to sign a National Security Agreement banning all but US nationals holding top posts in its acquired company and only US citizens able to handle sensitive network and security info. Don’t believe me. Read it at  http://bit.ly/j0z0gO .

Abdulaziz Hamad Al Joiah is vice chairman. Another Saudi Arabian. MD of Aljomaih Holding Co and director of Bank Al Bilad, Riyadh. He is chairman of Principle Insurance Holding – a Muslim car insurance company targeting 2 million Muslim drivers in UK –run on Takaful principles – a sort of Muslim mutual co-operative.

Another bidder tipped by Bloomberg is Florida based Seacor Holdings. The Fort Lauderdale company with international interests in supplying  the offshore oil industry  suffered a bad knock  in the wake of Obama’s ban on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil disaster. It is trading at a loss and has had to warn shareholders of potential future losses. Not a good bet.

According to City AM there are two other interested parties. Investindustrial, an Italian based company, that invests in a wide range of companies ( from chemical companies to Ducati motor bikes) from Italy, China, Thailand and USA  and again is interested in making short-term gains.

The only British firm is Consilia Partners from  Manchester. It describes itself as a turn around company  and AssetCo would join an Ipswich catering equipment distributor and an Egyptian marble company in Cairo as its other investments, according to the Manchester Evening News.

 None of this seems to me to bode well- particularly as AssetCo is facing a new creditor, the Northern Bank, with a demand for £1.3m. What seems more likely is  a serious tip-off from City Hall – that the London Fire authority may prefer AssetCo to go bust, go into the hands of an administrator, and be picked up by Capita or Serco , both mega British companies that target public services ripe for privatisation.

Otherwise the idea that the London fire brigade’s extensive fleet of engines will fall into the hands of an Arab company whose boss was once suspected of funding al-Qaeda; an US company in trouble over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; an Italian firm with a reputation for quick fix investments or a Manchester ” turn around” firm is hardly the best news for Londoners.

London firefighter firm recruiting Brits for UAE military support


A UAE Hawk jet -part of Assetco's training programme. Pic courtesy http://www.militaryimages.com

The company that owns  and maintains London’s fire engines  is  recruiting British firefighter instructors to train the military in the United Arab Emirates.

They are offering tax-free salaries of £46,812 a year  for  British recruits just as Abu Dhabi has joined the Saudis to help Bahrain’s  rulers  put down dissent among pro democracy demonstrators in Bahrain in the most brutal way. Reports have included torture of nurses, removal of people from intensive care units so they can be left to die and intimidation and possible murder of hospital surgeons. See this Sunday Telegraph report  http://bit.ly/fNNvug

 UAE jet fighters are  also preparing to join the coalition of the willing against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. They are planning to send 12 fighters and are blaming their civil unrest on the Iranians.

AssetCo, the  troubled fire privatisation company, is hoping to get £40m out of a £120m deal with the  Gulf State’s armed forces to boost its profitability. It has been facing severe problems in Britain, including having to raise £26m from investors and through a  share placing. Revenue and Customs has issued a winding up order against AssetCo seeking at least £4m and they have to pay off a debt to the state-owned Lloyds TSB.

The deal was one of the last negotiated by former chief executive, John Shannon, before he resigned after a huge row  with the rest of directors over the share placing.

 Now they are  desperate to recruit  trained staff so they can fulfill it. The advertisement promises a company car, free medical cover and flights home to Britain. See here. http://bit.ly/ftpdZi

The Telegraph report on Bahrain atrocities, the AssetCo contract and job advertisement can be seen together here. http://bitly.com/i4yYFk 

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, has written to David Cameron, to protest about the deal.

He said: ” The clampdown in Bahrain has resulted in a significant number of protestors being killed. The clampdown, including martial law, is supported by armed forces from Saudi Arabia and from the UAE.
… I hope you will make it clear that it is not acceptable for them to take British public money, and also to assist the armed forces of the UAE … I hope you will insist that any company which takes on such work in future, does not also undertake work for military clients involved in the suppression of democracy.
May I remind you that, in 1963, fire hoses were turned on school age civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham Alabama. Ever since that deeply alarming moment, fire services have sought to maintain an independent role as a result of their humanitarian responsibilities. We now have a UK firm providing an essential aspect of our emergency service which has close commercial links to a brutal and anti-democratic military. All the talk from politicians about support for democracy in the Arab world is so much hypocrisy if they allow UK public services to operate in this manner. AssetCo and its directors clearly have no regard for the humanitarian role of our service, and are only in it for profit.   ”

It seems extraordinary to me that a  foundering British company is poised to make millions out of Middle East  misery and recruit desperate British people to do it.