20 Rightwingers You Don’t Know But Should

Meet the B-list baddies.

by Novara Reporters

26 December 2023

A collection of the faces of people featured in an article about behind-the-scenes rightwingers
Photo: Bronte Dow/Novara Media

Consuming British media can often feel like watching a carousel of familiar figures take turns to be that day’s main character. But while we’d never argue that Suella Braverman or Rupert Murdoch haven’t done their fair share of damage to our democracy, we also know that behind every famous Tory oligarch are a thousand nameless wrong’uns breathing a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that nobody knows who they are.

Since the Westminster circus is out of town for the festive season, we thought we’d take this opportunity to bring you some of the lower-profile individuals – from Tory apparatchiks to mild-mannered media moguls, anti-abortion activists to souped-up loansharks – who are poisoning our politics, hoping you won’t notice.

a man with a blue shirt and grey hair poses with a placard with the Conservative party logo on it, backed by a small group of people
Rupert Harrison (centre). Photo: Rupert Harrison for Bicester and Woodstock/Facebook

Rupert Harrison, Tory MP candidate and handmaiden of austerity.

How did George Osborne impose austerity as a “part-time chancellor”? Insiders put it down to his chief of staff Rupert Harrison, who did most of the actual work of depriving the country of vital services in the 2010s while his boss focused instead on winning elections and taking holidays.

“To say that Rupert is central to the process underestimates his role,” a senior civil servant told the Independent at the height of the cuts in 2014. “Every important policy crosses his desk before it gets to Osborne and every idea from officials will have been run past Rupert first.”

After puppeteering the chancellor through billions of pounds of spending cuts, public sector pay freezes and devastating reductions in benefits, the former-Eton head boy ducked out of politics in 2015, to secure a six-figure salary at investment firm Blackrock.

But now he’s back. After a brief stint on Jeremy Hunt’s economic advisory council, Harrison was selected as the Conservative candidate for the newly created constituency of Bicester and Woodstock in June. 

If he wins a seat at the next general election, the Oxford-educated economist has said he’ll be guided by “core conservative values” including “private enterprise, family, […] community” and “personal responsibility”. Yet so far Harrison has slipped under the radar, evading all accountability for the hundreds of thousands of excess deaths attributed to the austerity policies he helped design.

A man with red hair and beard and navy suit stands against a black background
Morgan McSweeney. Photo: Morgan McSweeney/Facebook

Morgan McSweeney, Labour’s general election campaign manager.

Keir Starmer’s righthand man orchestrated a campaign to prise control of the party away from Jeremy Corbyn and back into centrist hands, before turning his attention to next year’s general election. 

Morgan McSweeney spent much of Corbyn’s leadership running Labour Together, a secretive campaign group that provided a safe space for Labour right MPs like Rachel Reeves and Wes Streeting to scheme against the leftwing leadership, while also conducting extensive research on how to win over the membership and regain control of the party.

In the summer of 2019, McSweeney is believed to have approached Starmer, whom he had identified as a potential future party leader. “When this is over, we need to rebuild the party. I think you might be the man to do it,” he is reported to have said

McSweeney became Starmer’s chief of staff and helped run his leadership bid, before being promoted to director of campaigns – a more strategic role, in which he has been described as the Labour leader’s “closest adviser”. 

Earlier this year it emerged that between 2017 and 2020, Labour Together broke the law no fewer than 20 times by failing to declare £730,000 in donations, many from multi-millionaire businessmen. By the time this was revealed and the group was fined, the story had moved on. According to the Times, “money at a scale rarely seen in Labour politics had already changed the party’s future, setting Starmer on the path to Downing Street.”

Liam Booth-Smith. Photo: Pat Scaasi/Reuters

Liam Booth-Smith, Rishi Sunak’s chief of staff.

Once nicknamed the “Travolta of the Treasury” (at least by the Daily Mail)  because of his penchant for dated leather jackets and disturbingly low necklines, Rishi Sunak’s 37-year-old chief of staff and “closest confidante” has been part of his core team since his days as chancellor. 

Liam Booth-Smith ran the prime minister’s leadership campaign in 2022, with the Times surmising that his background – he was raised by his single mother, Lisa, on a “tough” council estate near Stoke – had given him a “valuable view on the mood of the public”. Booth-Smith’s man-of-the-people insights have reportedly ranged from suggesting that Rishi Sunak butter up the BBC with a red velvet cake he had iced himself to telling the PM to “go with his instincts, to be a bit bolder” and to u-turn on net zero goals

According to a former colleague, Booth-Smith’s “unfair” experience of having to switch to a non-fee paying school (the sort 94% of the population attends) for sixth form after funding was cut for his private school scholarship instilled in him “drive” and a Thatcherite mindset. He believes in the “idea of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps,” the colleague said.

Booth-Smith – who worked as a senior adviser to Boris Johnson before he was sent to Sunak’s treasury by Dominic Cummings as part of an initiative to keep a closer eye on the chancellor – is described by the rightwing press as part of a “Westminster power couple”: his wife, Olivia Oates, still works for the Treasury.

A man with white hair and a red face looks at the camera
Gordon Sanders. Photo: BBC

Gordon Sanders, CEO of Runwood Homes.

At Windmill House in south Norfolk, inspectors found this summer that 59 dementia patients were being charged £1,100 a week each – often subsidised by the taxpayer – to sleep in soiled bedding and subsist on food with a hygiene rating of just one out of five.

The care home was plunged into special measures because of the “unsafe and undignified” conditions, with the regulator reporting that: “It was also concerning that people told us staff weren’t always kind to them.”

At other facilities run by the same company, Runwood Homes, residents were found stuck in bed with nothing to do. There were too few staff, inspectors said, and some of them hadn’t been properly trained or subject to a criminal record check, increasing the risk of abuse. One resident was reportedly restrained by staff strapping a tabletop to a chair.

Care workers, who take home just £11 an hour (an increase of £1 since the situation was first reported in the summer), said they often didn’t have time to go for a walk with a resident, or even to have a cup of tea.

Yet sitting atop this multimillion-pound care home empire is boss Gordon Sanders, who has paid himself at least £21m in five years, the Guardian reports. This includes £14.3m in salary and dividends during the Covid pandemic, when Runwood accepted £12.3m in government support. 

While vulnerable Runwood residents were found living in unclean facilities with nothing to eat but bread, butter and cereal, the 76-year-old “successful property developer” lives between a £4m mansion in Essex and a home in the affluent west London district of Knightsbridge – while his clients waste away in slum conditions.

A man with dark blonde hair, circular glasses and a navy suit and red tie appears on the BBC programme politics live
Sebastian Payne. Photo: BBC/Twitter

Sebastian Payne, director of Onward.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, multiple-times failed Conservative MP candidate Sebastian Payne has resigned himself to cheering on the party from the sidelines in his job as director of centre-right thinktank Onward.

Established in 2018, Onward has since managed to rapidly grow both its pool of supporters and funders, with a big presence at this year’s Labour and Conservative party conferences.

Compared to the Adam Smith Institute or some of the other thinktanks huddled at 55 Tufton Street, Onward is marginally more transparent, declaring the names of donors who contribute over £5,000 – in its case, KPMG, vape giant Juul, Deliveroo, Facebook, weapons manufacturer BAE Systems, Uber, JPMorgan and GlaxoSmithKline, among others. It doesn’t, however, say how much they’ve donated or what the money is for. 

It isn’t, however, so great on the independence front. For a measly £12,000 (plus VAT), companies can join Onward’s business network. Among those paying to secure “private roundtables with senior policymakers and opinion formers” and a “private copy of our reports, ahead of publication” are Shell, Amazon, arms company Lockheed Martin and BP. If you’re starting to worry, don’t: Onward’s website insists it “retains full editorial control” of its research. Thank God for that!

Freed from the shackles of Financial Times moderation, Payne is rapidly distinguishing himself from the rest of the bespectacled youngish white male commentariat, diligently adding his two pence to the US campus wars while sounding deafening dog-whistles to xenophobes at home. We’re sure that Tory seat is coming your way any day now, Seb.

a man with grey hair and square glasses on a black background
Nigel Tait. Photo: Carter-Ruck

Nigel Tait, managing partner and head of defamation and media law at Carter-Ruck.

As anyone who’s remotely online will know, Britain has some of the world’s most plaintiff-friendly libel laws, thanks in large part to its cadre of astonishingly aggressive libel lawyers.

Few firms have been as instrumental in ensuring that freedom of expression remains the preserve of the wealthy as Carter-Ruck. The firm has been accused of spearheading the growth in strategic lawsuits against public participation – or Slapps, as they’re known – which often target progressives and journalists.

Among the firm’s most notable clients is the Russian oil megacorporation Rosneft, which in 2021 sued Financial Times journalist Catherine Belton over her book Putin’s People (following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the firm said it would no longer represent individuals associated or groups associated with the Putin regime).

The firm’s reputation for ruthless efficacy has made it the choice of several leftists – among them, the five ex-Corbyn staffers alleged to have leaked a document detailing the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints under the former Labour leader, as well as dismissed NUJ president Shaima Dallali – in their own libel suits. Nevertheless, Tait and his firm’s influence is why such suits proliferate in the first place – and usually, the winners are the monied.

Enter Nigel Tait, the firm’s managing partner since 2012, its head of defamation and a man who once famously said, “I am the man who suppresses free speech.” As one ex-Carter Ruck employee told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: “You have to be a professional bastard: that’s your job.” Tait, it appears, makes no bones about this.

three men talk together, one in workwear and other two in suits
Ben Houchen (left). Photo: Lee Smith/Reuters

Ben Houchen, Tory mayor of the Tees Valley.

The poster boy for the Tory takeover of the Red Wall, Houchen’s flagship campaign since his election as metro mayor in 2017 has been regenerating Teesworks, Redcar’s former steelworks and Europe’s largest brownfield site. Suffice it to say it hasn’t gone well.

In April, Houchen found himself at the centre of what local Labour MP Andy McDonald called an “industrial-scale corruption” scandal, as it emerged he had offered a 90% stake in Teesworks to two local developers without any public tender. A month later, the FT reported that companies owned by the two developers, Chris Musgrave and Martin Corney, had extracted over £45m in dividends from the project whilst having invested only £15m to date (Houchen claimed they’d put in over ten times as much). The taxpayer has so far invested over £260m and is set to receive a further £400m.

In July, Houchen was rewarded for his dodgy dealings with – you guessed it – a seat in the House of Lords. Perhaps emboldened by his peerage, in October, he was accused of “strongarming” the local council by threatening to cut off investment unless it agreed to move a roundabout in Teesworks.

A woman in a pink trenchcoat with long bleach-blonde hair and stilletto heels is shot using a long-lens camera
Miriam Cates. Photo: Pat Scaasi/MI News

Miriam Cates, Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.

Enter Miriam Cates, a rising star of the moralistic conservative right.

Cates told this year’s National Conservatism gathering that “cultural Marxism is systematically destroying our children’s souls” while arguing for higher birth rates. She doesn’t want trans children to have their genders affirmed in school and has warmly welcomed the government’s u-turns on its green commitments. No need to make sure that the planet is habitable for future generations that you’re so eager to welcome, apparently.

Cates was also closely involved in a south Yorkshire church that was accused of carrying out a “gay exorcism” on one of its congregants in 2014. When the Sheffield Tribune asked her about this, she said she was “not aware of any such therapy taking place” and that it was “never something raised with me” during her time as a senior board member at the St Thomas Philadelphia Church from 2016 to 2018.

A man in a blue suit stands besides the late Queen, who is wearing a turqoise outfit
Peter Mathieson (right). Photo: Jane Barlow/Reuters

Sir Peter Mathieson, vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh.

Lecturers have been striking again this year and university vice chancellors continue to earn fat salaries while holding down pay and implementing casualisation.

To take just one example almost at random, Edinburgh University’s Sir Peter Mathieson for a £43,000 pay rise this year, taking his earnings to £406,000 – nice work if you can get it.

Like at other universities, Edinburgh lecturers who took part in the nationwide marking boycott were threatened with pay deductions, while students disrupted this year’s graduation ceremony, demanding that the university “pay your workers”.

According to protesters who have been pushing for him to resign, Mathieson “represents the epitome of the capitalist university model.”

A man holds an umbrella outside of Number 10 while another stands in the background
Richard Tice (right). Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK.

Reform UK, formerly the Brexit party, could screw the Tories from the right at the next election, by tapping into the votes of Brexiteers who think that Brexit isn’t Brexit-y enough. Richard Tice is its leader.

Formerly the CEO of property investment firm Quidnet Capital Partners, Tice wants the Tories to “be obliterated” so that electoral reform can happen and help him gain election to parliament with a platform of “true” conservatism. The Conservative party “does not deserve to survive,” he told Unherd.

While party president Nigel Farage is a household name, Tice is a household name for households where one person has sadly fallen into a YouTube rabbit hole and everyone else is very worried about them. Tice was a pundit for TalkTV alongside his wife Isabel Oakeshott before moving to join GB News, which he uses to blow off steam about immigration and talk up the prospects of his party as he tries to get elected in Hartlepool, as some kind of even-further-right balance against all the Conservative MPs.

A man with quiffed hair smiles
Andy Haldane. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

Andy Haldane, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts and permanent secretary of the department for levelling up.

In 2019, the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) handed the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) an award for its work in organising gig economy workers, congratulating the trade union for “placing decision-making power directly in the hands of workers.”  

In 2023, the RSA was forced to pay £7,000 to a former employee who’d been fired for publicly criticising the charity’s “hypocritical” refusal to recognise the IWGB as the staff union. What happened?

At the helm of the staunchly anti-union RSA is chief executive Andy Haldane, former Bank of England chief economist and government economic advisor. He sits on the senior management team who rejected the staff’s request for the RSA to voluntarily recognise the IWGB three times. 

Last November, the charity was forced to recognise the union. This September, the charity faced the first-ever strike action in its 270-year history. According to RSA staff in the union, members of the leadership team chose “to use intimidatory tactics to divide and demoralise the workforce.”

Earlier this month, Haldane spoke on a panel attempting to answer the question: “How can we ensure that any prosperity created is fairly shared?” His apparent union-busting suggests Haldane doesn’t like the answer.

A man with white hair, a striped shirt and wireframed glasses speaks into two mics
Bruce Hales. Photo: UBT

Bruce Hales, leader of the Exclusive Brethren.

We couldn’t write this list without including a good, old-fashioned cult leader now, could we? 

Bruce Hales is the Sydney-based head of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC), also known as the Exclusive Brethren. With 50,000 members across the world – between 16,000 and 17,000 of them in the UK – the PBCC is a strict fundamentalist group. Its members follow a “doctrine of separation” whereby they isolate themselves from the perceived ills of the modern world – and those who choose to leave are often excommunicated from family still within the group.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, at a 2015 meeting of the group in the UK Hales was asked how to help a 25-year-old man with “mind troubles”. He suggested that the man kill himself.

Under Hales, an Australian businessman who calls himself the “Elect Vessel”, the PBCC has also become an empire. A recent New Statesman profile details how Brethren-owned businesses in the UK claim a combined yearly turnover of £5bn, while companies linked to the group were granted £2.2bn of government Covid contracts.

In November, the New Zealand newspaper The Post reported that the sect had become effectively a “pyramid scheme” with a focus on maximising revenue flowing upward towards Hales. Quite a creative example of foreign investors extracting value from the British economy, we’ll give them that.

A man with brown parted hair wears a black suit with a micrphone strapped to his ear
Sebastian Siemiatkowski. Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa/Reuters

Sebastian Siemiatkowski, CEO and co-founder of Klarna.

As the festive season rolls around again, many of us are looking for ways to treat our loved ones while still keeping up with rent and bills. It’s at times like these that “buy now, pay later” companies like Klarna seem particularly appealing. What could possibly go wrong?

Lots, of course. While its CEO and co-founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski claims he’s simply “trying [his] best to be the nightmare of the bank establishment worldwide!”, Klarna, for many (often younger) shoppers, has led to nightmares of their own, luring them into stomach-churning levels of debt by letting them buy more than they can afford from companies that operate in an unregulated wild west (the UK government said it would regulate buy now, pay later products in 2021, but gave no timeframe for introducing draft legislation).

Swedish entrepreneur Siemiatkowski won’t hear a word of it. In 2021, he told the BBC that it made him “emotionally upset” when his company was compared to the defunct payday loan firm Wonga. Cry me a river.

A blonde woman with short hair looks off camera
Carole Cable. Photo: Brunswick Group

Carole Cable, joint head of global energy and resources at Brunswick Group.

What’s worse than being an oil exec? Being the flunky whose job it is to make out like oil execs are the good guys, actually. 

Take Brunswick Group, an international PR firm which does greenwash for fossil fuel companies. BP, Sinopec, Saudi Aramco: you name it, Brunswick has probably spun for it, shielding the industry from scrutiny and raking in the big bucks in the process.

Of all the Brunswick baddies, Carole Cable is of particular note. Cable is the company’s joint head of global energy and resources practice, specialising in metals and mining – a sector premised on environmental destruction and rife with human rights abuses. So darned passionate is Cable about her line of work that she’s also the chair of Women in Mining, a non-profit promoting the sector as “a fulfilling career choice for women”. Nice!

a man with short black hair and a black suit stands next to corinthian columns
Imran Ahmed. Photo: Alan Turing Institute

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate.

The subject of a fawning FT profile published earlier this year, the paper’s description of Imran Ahmed as “the activist sued by Elon Musk” is perhaps the most liberal use of the term “activist” we come across. A former banker and Middle East management consultant, there are lots of words to describe Ahmed, but “activist” is not one of them.

Ahmed quit corporate life after 9/11 to root out that foremost social ill, bullying. In 2017, he founded the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a thinktank that targets hate speech, particularly on social media (which is how Ahmed wound up enraging the famously litigious CEO of X/Twitter). One of CCDH’s most successful campaigns, Stop Funding Fake News, effectively put leftwing platform The Canary out of business.

The crusade was ironic, given that Ahmed cut his teeth as a low-ranking Labour spin doctor with a reputation for generating fake news, notably brickgate, the yarn that a Corbynite had thrown a brick through Angela Eagle’s constituency office window (it’s unclear whether Ahmed placed this specific story, though he certainly amplified it). These days, Ahmed’s connections to Labour are more oblique. CCDH has been financially linked to Labour Together, the group that effectively – and potentially criminally – bankrolled Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign (see also, Morgan McSweeney).

While not supporting Starmer’s dodgy campaign financing, Ahmed has been on a mission to empower governments to spy on their citizens in the name of eliminating ill-defined “hate”. Ahmed’s organisation is thought to have had a key role in toughening up the Online Safety bill, including amendments that would allow Ofcom to regulate not only public but also private communications.

Ahmed was the first person called upon to give evidence to the parliamentary committee considering the bill. In his testimony, he told the committee that the bill didn’t go far enough: specifically, that its provision for protecting journalistic content from state scrutiny was too generous with its definition of the term “journalist”. We presume he was talking about journalists like us.

A man with bald head and grey beard, black suit and pink tie appears on GB News
David Kurten. Photo: GB News

David Kurten, leader of the Heritage party.

Too hardline even for UKIP, Kurten quit the party in 2020 to become leader of the Heritage party, a hard-right Christian libertarian party whose slogan is “pro-freedom, pro-family, pro-life”.

Despite his avuncular, besuited demeanour, Kurten’s extreme politics mean he’s rarely seen in mainstream outlets. Kurten hasn’t let this stop him, however. Over the past three years, he’s been slowly cultivating a loyal following on social media and private messenger apps – he has 134,000 followers on X/Twitter, 31,000 on Facebook, and a Telegram channel with 1,800 subscribers – to which he broadcasts everything from Covid conspiracy theories to anti-vax misinformation and pro-life propaganda.

The latter is particularly alarming: while anti-abortion activism has never been particularly widespread in Britain (much as Jacob Rees-Mogg has been doing his damnedest to ensure otherwise), it’s seen a groundswell in recent years, bolstered by the well-funded and well-organised anti-abortion lobby in the US. And we all saw how that’s worked out.

Though unlikely to become a main character in British political life any time soon, that’s not really Kurten’s aim. Instead, he’s content directly addressing the masses of people disengaged from Westminster infighting and in search of “real” alternatives.

A man in a suit appears on GB news
Ben Beadle. Photo: BBC Newsnight

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association

That being a landlord has come to be seen as a protected identity category and not a parasitical way to strangle the property market is no accident. It’s the product of hard work by lobbying organisations, chiefly the National Residential Landlords Association. 

Chaired by Ben Beadle, the lobby group has spent years sounding the alarm to the government, press, and politicians of an impending “landlord exodus” should reforms be introduced.

No matter the proposal ­- new energy efficiency standards for rented homes, rent controls, increased taxation – Beadle publicly warned that any change would force landlords to sell up, decimating housing stock. But behind closed doors, Beadle was singing a different tune.

In March, Beadle told an industry webinar that the sector was actually increasing in size but that this was “not terribly helpful” to the landlord’s argument. When the cat got out of the bag over his lie, one Tory MP said Beadle had been “caught red-handed making up stories about a ‘shortage’ of rental stock so landlords can jack up rents and to scare politicians who should know better.”

Has the National Residential Landlords Association laid low since this unedifying episode? Not quite: they’ve recently been boasting about how their “extensive lobbying” efforts secured an indefinite delay to the end of no-fault section 21 evictions.

a man in a red robe with a white fur collar in the house of lords
Ross Kempsell. Photo: Parliament TV

Ross Kempsell, Tory lord.

Among Boris Johnson’s controversial resignation honours was Baron Kempsell of Letchworth.

The newly-minted Baron Kempsell started his media career at rightwing blog Guido Fawkes, then went to Rupert Murdoch’s Talk Radio, where he spoke to Johnson about his passion for making models of busses to relax.

Such is Britain’s revolving door between its media and political classes that in 2019, Kempsell was hired as a special advisor in Number 10. Continuing his circular journey, Kempsell returned briefly to the Murdoch stable in 2020 before becoming political director at CCHQ, then Johnson’s spokesperson when he resigned as prime minister.

As a reward for his Boris bootlicking, he got a peerage. At the age of 31, Kempsell now gets a £332 daily attendance allowance and the right to scrutinise legislation for life, or until the Lords gets abolished.

See also Charlotte Owen, another young Johnson-advisor-turned-lord. One Whitehall source called her “the most junior person in political history to have received a peerage,” while another called her appointment “impossible to defend, even as somebody who broadly thinks the current peerage system is right”.

A man with black hair and a beard wears a grey suit against a grey background
Robin Simcox. Photo: BBC News

Robin Simcox, government counter-extremism commissioner.

Suella Braverman’s talk of “hate marches” is a sign not only of a busted ruling party that offers nothing but cheap demagoguery but also of increasing rightwing capture of the state.

Robin Simcox is the government’s commissioner for countering extremism. Far from a cool-headed, behind-the-scenes advisor, in October he appeared on Newsnight and in the Times whipping up fears that Palestine marches were pro-terror events – part of a rightwing scare story which ultimately led to the far-right violence on Armistice Day.

This follows a career working in hawkish thinktanks that promoted the war on terror, which massively increased extremism. Read our profile of him.

A man with red hair, a brown suit and white shirt speaks against a black background
Paul Marshall. Photo: Arc Forum/Flickr

Paul Marshall, owner of GB News.

The UK’s newest media mogul, Paul Marshall is a major funder of GB News as well as of the rightwing media platform Unherd. He has been on a political journey to say the least: he’s a former Orange Book Lib Dem funder turned Brexiteer who believes that liberalism has failed because it has become unmoored from its Christian roots.

From various media puff pieces, we learn that he is a “mild-mannered”, “anti-Davos Man and pro-the overlooked and undervalued” who “wants to shape wider culture”, while the GB News website says he is “a passionate believer in restoring prosperity and voice to Britain’s regions”. Michael Gove calls him, “one of the most generous-hearted, kind and thoughtful people I know.”

Exactly how that squares with GB News’ migrant-baiting and conspiracy theorising is a question for “classical liberals” to answer.

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