British Tories Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby is under the spotlight due to potential conflicts of interest from his lobbying firm Crosby/Textor. Prime Minister David Cameron has defended Crosby over his links to the tobacco industry after the Government’s decision to delay a decision on plain packaging; a decision Cameron denies is related to Crosby. Environmentalists say Crosby/Textor’s representation of Australian oil and gas lobby group APPEA encourages more shale gas development in Britain.
How much is due to Crosby/Textor lobbying is a moot point and probably oversold. But the agency has been a major force in Australian, and now British politics. Crosby and Mark Textor were instrumental in John Howard’s four election wins and this is not the first time their activities have prompted calls of conflict of interest. Among their Australian clients are Qantas and as Howard headed into the election year of 2007, Crosby/Textor aggressively campaigned for an $11b takeover of Qantas by Airline Partners Australia. Company spokesman John Kent brushed off media concerns saying “we never talk to anyone about anything about clients” but APA wanted their insider status when they hired them as lobbyists.
Lobbying is at the heart of Crosby/Textor’s business which has been closely associated with the conservative side of politics since 2003. According to their blurb Crosby/Textor offers “an unmatched pedigree combining comprehensive experience in market research, strategic communications and campaign execution”. Mark Textor leads the Sydney operation while Lynton Crosby runs the London offshoot Crosby Textor Fullbrook.
Lynton Crosby rose through the Liberal Party and became Federal Director in 1997. John Howard appointed Crosby as campaign director for his second victory in 1998. Crosby is known for his mastery of dog whistle politics and was responsible for the 2001 wedge campaign which promoted fear and hatred of refugees in the wake of the Tampa crisis. His ruthless targeting of key marginal constituencies with highly localised campaigning kept Howard prime minister for 11 years.
Mark Textor cut his teeth in his native Northern Territory as part of the successful Country-Liberal Party’s election campaign committee in 1994. Buoyed by success, he masterminded the strategy behind the 1996 Liberal federal victory. He would become principal Liberal pollster for the next three elections.
Textor and Crosby’s firm had immediate success in 2004 when they ran the Liberal federal re-election campaign. In 2005 the Crosby/Textor machine was behind another Howard election campaign, this time for Michael Howard leader of Britain’s Conservative Party. Crosby was criticised for bringing Australian divisive tactics such as immigration, asylum seekers, gypsies, law and order and abortion. Although Howard lost, blemishing Crosby-Textor’s perfect record, the previously hapless Tories gained 36 seats to put them within reach of Government for the next election.
After John Howard lost to Rudd in Australia, Crosby returned to British politics for the May 2008 London Mayoral campaign. He masterminded Conservative candidate Boris Johnson’s victory over Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone. Last year he repeated this success as Campaign Director for a second term in “Back Boris 2012” despite a large nationwide swing against the Tories in the British council elections.
This success brought him to David Cameron in November last year. The hope among supporters, as expressed by Iain Dale was Crosby would bring a sense of direction and strategy in a year that was “a complete shambles for the Conservative party.” Opponents saw it as a shift to the right and a sign that Cameron’s supposedly more caring image was a sham.
When the Queen opened parliament in May, the media picked up on the shelving of crackdowns on tobacco and alcohol. The Mirror noted Crosby/Textor had the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia as a client. While the paper couldn’t say whether UK offshoot represented any drinks firms, it was mud they could legitimately throw. Whether it sticks remains to be seen.