Meet the Labour Candidates Lobbying for Oil, Gas and Arms Companies

We counted 31 with links to corporate lobbying.

by Polly Smythe

13 June 2024

A montage of Labour party MPs involved in lobbying
Picture: Bronte Dow

“I want the highest possible quality candidates to put before the electorate,” Labour leader Keir Starmer told the press as the election campaign started. With leftwingers like Faiza Shaheen and Lloyd Russell-Moyle excluded, and with Britain’s first Black MP Diane Abbott saved only by a public outcry, what then qualifies someone for a spot on the ballot paper?

Working as a lobbyist for big business, it would seem. From former MPs looking to be re-elected who’ve found work as lobbyists in the meantime, to candidates being snapped up by lobbying firms after their selection, to lifelong career consultants, Labour is the party fielding the most general election candidates with public affairs backgrounds.

In March 2023, a new code of conduct was introduced that barred MPs from providing paid parliamentary advice as part of their consultancy work, and any paid lobbying of the government. But since its introduction, little has changed, with the new code failing to capture much of the consultancy work done by MPs.   

In January, Starmer said: “To change Britain, we must change ourselves – we need to clean up politics. No more revolving doors between government and the companies they regulate.” Five months on, and how is that “crackdown on cronyism” going?

While not every prospective MP is particularly open about their lobbying work – we wonder why? – Novara Media has found 31 parliamentary candidates with corporate lobbying and public affairs backgrounds.

From Shell to Uber, Amazon to Deliveroo, Lockheed Martin to BP: meet the Labour class of 2024, and the clients their firms represent.

1. Gareth Barrett, Labour candidate for Brentwood and Ongar

Labour candidate Gareth Barrett
Photo: Brentwood and Ongar Labour

Barrett is an associate director of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, a giant American public relations company that works with Shell and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) – a coalition of oil and gas companies that also includes BP, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.

The PR firm has been described as “the main lobbying communications firm for the oil industry” by campaign group Clean Creatives.

Currently a councillor for Brentwood South, Barrett is standing in the Essex seat of Brentwood and Ongar on 4 July. 

According to his LinkedIn, he’s also currently a “senior member of the energy & industrials team” at Hill & Knowlton.

Fossil fuel companies rely on Hill & Knowlton to “spin, delay, and mislead, in order to continue expanding fossil fuel production and thereby increasing heat-trapping emissions,” said Clean Creatives.

In a speech last week, United Nations general secretary António Guterres labelled public relations companies representing fossil fuel clients as “enablers to planetary destruction,” and called on them to stop taking on new clients and to drop existing ones.

Also on Hill & Knowlton’s client roster is arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the Ministry of Financial Services and Commerce for the Cayman Islands Government, and outsourcing company ISS World.

2. Jade Botterill, Labour candidate for Ossett and Denby Dale

Botterill was selected as the candidate for the new West Yorkshire constituency of Ossett and Denby Dale in September 2023. After her candidacy was announced, Botterill landed a new job, as a director at the lobbying firm Portland.

Botterill’s website claims: “In my professional life, I work to support vital local and national campaigns, like holding water companies to account when they pollute our rivers and seas.” Yet Portland’s clients include known polluter Southern Water.

The company also works with fast-fashion giant Boohoo, consultancy firm KPMG, BP, and China’s state-owned oil company CNOOC.

Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, has been employed by the company since 2012.

Botterill’s role at Portland isn’t listed on her LinkedIn or website – although she mentions her previous job as a corporate affairs adviser for the polluter Yorkshire Water. But, Portland’s guide to Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs), published in April, lists her as a director. Writing in the guide, Botterill said: “No public affairs strategy is complete without a comprehensive approach to PPCs. With some polling claiming there could be 200 new Labour PPCs, engaging now is a must.”

3. Polly Billington, Labour candidate for East Thanet

Polly Billington in a group of campaigners
Photo: South Thanet Labour

Just three months after she was selected as Labour’s East Thanet candidate in February 2023, Billington joined lobbying firm Hanover Communications as a senior adviser.

Hanover lobbies on behalf of Amazon, Uber, Meta, and the London Stock Exchange Group, among many others. 

Billington chaired a meeting in Hanover’s offices in January with Labour’s shadow climate change chief Kerry McCarthy and industry reps from energy, manufacturing and transport, according to a report by Open Democracy.

Under the campaigns section on Billington’s website, she lists “protecting working people’s rights” as a priority. Whether that means protecting us from the very companies Hanover lobbies on behalf of remains to be seen.

4. Chris Ward, Labour candidate for Brighton Kemptown

When Lloyd Russell-Moyle was blocked from standing in his Brighton Kemptown seat last month, Chris Ward swooped in to replace him. (According to commentator Owen Jones, Ward has long been “obsessed with becoming an MP in his hometown, Brighton.”)

Until last month, Ward was a director at Hanbury Strategy – a lobbying firm set up by former advisers to David Cameron – where he ran the “Labour Unit” with ex-Angela Rayner aide Joe Moore

Ward likely drew on his close ties to Starmer – he’s been the Labour leader’s political adviser, deputy chief of staff and deputy campaign manager – “to help clients navigate what could be the next government”.

These clients include Amazon, Deliveroo, gambling company Flutter, finance firms UBS and Blackstone and UK oil company Rockhopper, which won £210m after it sued the Italian government in 2022 for compensation following the introduction of a ban on offshore drilling. Charming.

5. Joe Morris, Labour candidate for Hexham

Morris, who is standing in the Northumberland constituency of Hexham, is also an associate director for Hanbury, and a part of Ward’s dedicated “Labour Unit”.

Having worked in Westminster as a parliamentary assistant, Morris wrote in a promotional LinkedIn post for Hanbury in 2022: “I’m excited about seeing the process from the point of view of our clients. When I worked in a shadow frontbencher’s office, I saw where the best opportunities to influence are.” Indeed.

6. Hannah Dawson, Labour candidate for Winchester

Hannah Dawson in Winchester
Photo: Winchester Labour

Rinse and repeat. The candidate for Winchester is also an associate director for Hanbury. 

7. Josh Tapper, Labour candidate for Hertsmere

The 26-year-old Gogglebox star is standing in the Hertfordshire constituency of Hertsmere, where he’s hoping to overturn deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden’s majority.

Tapper joined Hanbury back in March 2022 as an account manager.

8. Pamela Nash, Labour candidate for Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke

MP for Airdrie and Shotts from 2010 to 2015, Nash is now standing in the new Scottish constituency of Motherwell, Wishaw and Carluke.

Nash’s candidacy was announced in April 2023. In February 2024, she joined consultancy firm 56 Degrees North as part of its general election advisory board (although the company makes no mention of her candidacy). The board works to “give clients an edge” and provide them with “actionable intelligence” for after the election.

Clients include Amazon and Baillie Gifford, an investment management firm with links to the fossil fuel industry and Israeli arms companies.

9. Dan Bewley, candidate for Bath

The candidate for Bath is also an account manager at consultancy firm Lowick.

Lowick was founded by Kevin McKeever, who has unsuccessfully stood as a Labour candidate on three occasions. In 2017, then Unite general secretary Len McCluskey accused McKeever of orchestrating a coup against Jeremy Corbyn.

Lowick’s clients include Britain’s biggest home builder Barratt Homes, property developer Berkley Group, and Notting Hill Genesis, which is responsible for the redevelopment of the Aylesbury estate – plans residents say amount to “social cleansing”.

A month ago, Bewley attended the Westminster Property Association AGM. According to Lowick’s LinkedIn, Bewley and his colleagues “throughly [sic] enjoyed catching up with old friends and making new ones in the built environment landscape!”

10. Mary Creagh, Labour candidate for Coventry East

Mary Creagh official portrait
Photo: UK Parliament

MP for Wakefield from 2005 to 2019, Creagh is now standing in Coventry East. In April 2020 she joined lobbying agency Lexington Communications as chair of its responsible business practice.

Lexington’s clients? Australian investment bank and former Thames Water shareholder Macquarie, one of Britain’s most polluting water companies United Utilities, and Royal London Asset Management.

 11. Steve Race, Labour candidate for Exeter

This is Race’s second stab at becoming an MP, having stood in East Devon back in 2015. Now, Race is standing in Exeter.

With over a decade of comms work behind him, Race worked as a senior director at consultancy firm BCW until April. Among its client roster is British American Tobacco, the Central Bank of the Bahamas, the Qatar Foundation, Nestle and real estate company Lendlease. Also on the list is private care chain HC-One, majority-owned by a US private equity company.

In April, Race joined fellow candidate Creagh at Lexington, where he’s now working as senior counsel.

12. Oliver Ryan, Labour candidate for Burnley, Padiham and Brierfield

Although neither his website nor his LinkedIn mention it, Ryan also worked for Lexington until February at least, according to the lobbying register.

13. Naushabah Khan, Labour candidate for Gillingham and Rainham

Naushabah Khan in front of Gillingham and Rainham football stadium
Photo: Naushabah Khan

Khan has been a senior adviser at Dentons Global Advisors since 2022. 

The firm’s clients include betting company Football Pools, Hippodrome Casino and slot machine company Merkur Gaming, as well as outsourcer Serco.

Serco, which runs services including prisons and detention centres on behalf of governments, has been lobbying Labour to sell out public services, despite the party previously committing to overseeing “the biggest wave of insourcing for a generation.”

14. James Frith, Labour candidate for Bury North

James Frith
Photo: UK Parliament

MP for Bury North from 2017 to 2019, Frith lost his seat to Tory James Daly at the last election by a mere 105 votes. He now hopes to win it back – but Frith hasn’t spent the intervening years twiddling his thumbs.

Since February 2021 Frith’s been senior counsel at Atticus Partners, where, according to his LinkedIn, he’s been busy “advising existing and new clients on all public and government affairs”.

Who are those clients? British-American Tobacco, a Rio-Tinto and Mongolian government-owned mining business, and American cannabis company Curaleaf.

 15. Emma Reynolds, Labour candidate for Wycombe

Emma Reynolds
Photo: UK Parliament

MP for Wolverhampton North East from 2010 till 2019, when she lost her seat, Reynolds has spent the last few years as managing director of lobby group TheCityUK. She’s overseen public affairs, as well as policy and economic research, for the organisation, which describes itself as an “industry-led body representing UK-based financial and related professional services”.

Now she’s back, standing in Wycombe.

16. Melanie Onn, Labour candidate for Great Grimsby

Melanie Onn
Photo: UK Parliament

Onn is hoping to be re-elected in Great Grimsby, in North East Lincolnshire, after losing her seat to the Tories in 2019.

She’s currently a senior adviser at consultancy firm Blakeney. Blakeney’s clients include property developer St Modwen, Octopus Energy, and pool betting service Tote Group. 

Also on the roster is recently disgraced water utility company Pennon Group, which owns South West Water. In May, days after more than 100 Devon residents contracted a waterborne disease as the result of a parasite outbreak, Pennon raised dividend payouts to its shareholders.

 17. Anna Turley, Labour candidate for Redcar

Anna Turley, UK parliament portrait
Photo: UK Parliament

Turley is also hoping to be re-elected to a seat she lost in 2019: Redcar in Yorkshire. 

She’s kept herself busy in the interim, joining lobbying firm Arden Strategies as an associate director in 2022. Set up by former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Arden advertises itself as “one of only two UK agencies led by former Labour cabinet ministers,” and according to a report in Tribune, has been “embraced” by the Labour party.

With a dedicated Labour directorate, the firm offers “comprehensive mapping and analysis of political stakeholders that share your company’s interests”. 

18. Blair McDougall, Labour candidate for East Renfrewshire

McDougall is also at Arden Strategies, in his case since 2016.

Having previously worked at the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative and as campaign director for the Better Together 2014 referendum campaign, he’s now standing in East Renfrewshire.

19. Martha Angharad O’Neil, Labour candidate for Caerfyrddin

The candidate for Caerfyrddin has also been through Arden’s doors, having spent 18 months there as a public affairs consultant. She then spent nine months as a freelance policy consultant.

 20. Gregor Poynton, Labour candidate for Livingston

A partner at consultancy firm Headland, Poynton is now the Scottish Labour candidate for Livingston. According to Headland’s website, he spent “two periods working for the UK Labour party where he advised senior politicians on communications, election and political strategy.”

Clients? Frequent polluters Anglian Water, as well as JustEat, Tata Steel, asset management firm Ardian, and lobby group TheCityUK.

21. Kevin Craig, Labour candidate for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

Founder and CEO of lobbying and public relations firm PLMR, Craig is described on its website as one of the “UK’s top public affairs, public relations and crisis management experts with 25 years of experience since his first paid comms role”.

While PLMR has worked with Centrica, the clients of which are mainly schools and academy trusts.

This general election, PLMR says it will “audit parliamentary candidates to identify the right individuals aligning with your goals and sector interests.” With “links into all the major party visit teams,” PLMR can “submit opportunities on your behalf”.

Craig is hoping to become the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.

22. Jack Abbott, Labour candidate for Ipswich

Photo: Jack Abbott/ X

Selected as parliamentary candidate for Ipswich in July 2022, Abbott joined political lobbying and media relations company PLMR as a senior account manager in January 2023.

23. Luke Akehurst, Labour candidate for North Durham

A red-haired man in a suit and red rosette knocks on doors
Photo: Luke Akehurst/X

Having worked for global PR company Weber Shandwick for 11 years, Akehurst now uses those lobbying skills in his position as director of We Believe in Israel. 

The pro-Israel lobbying organisation is part of the British Israel Communication and Research Centre, known as Bicom, which has been described by foreign affairs specialists as “the most persistent and slickest media operations in the battle for influence over opinion formers”.

24. Joe Dancey, Labour candidate for Stockton West

Joe Dancey campaigning with a group of canvassers
Photo: Joe Dancey/ Facebook

Labour’s Stockton West candidate also happens to be shadow health secretary Wes Streeting’s partner. According to Streeting’s register of financial interests, Dancey is the “owner and director of Endeavour Advisory Ltd, which provides communications and public affairs advice.”

He previously worked as a researcher for Peter Mandelson, former Labour MP for Hartlepool.

 25. Julie Minns, Labour candidate for Carlisle

Julie Minns in a garden
Photo: Julie Minns/ X

The candidate for Carlisle has been a freelance comms consultant since 2019, having worked for Bell Pottinger as a partner in its political team between 2014 and 2016.

Last September, Private Eye revealed Minns had attempted to cover up her past lobbying work, with her Labour website referring to her 20-year stint in PR as “when I worked in industry”.

Founded by Sir Tim Bell, Thatcher’s favoured PR adviser, Bell Pottinger shut in 2017 after it ran a secret campaign for its billionaire clients to stir up racial tension in South Africa.

26. John Slinger, Labour candidate for Rugby

After a stint at the Tony Blair Associates in the UAE from 2015 to 2016, Slinger became a senior director at Consulum in 2017, and then a partner in 2023.

The Mayfair-headquartered PR firm is largely staffed by former Bell Pottinger employees, and has come under scrutiny for representing Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman and winning a £5m contract from the Hong Kong government to improve its reputation.

27. Chris Philipsborn, Labour candidate for Arundel and South Downs

Philipsborn is executive vice president and managing partner of lobbying giant Kreab.

Kreab mainly targets the EU, where its clients include Amazon, asset managers Amundi, and “buy now, pay later” company Klarna

Also on that list is AGC Chemicals, which in 2023 was found to be releasing almost 800kg a year of “forever chemicals” into the River Wyre in Lancashire.

Philipsborn’s Kreab bio states he has “30 years’ experience in-house and as a consultant”. In that time, he served as a director of a “major UK outsourcer”.

28. Rob Newman, Labour candidate for East Wiltshire

Rob Newman canvassing
Photo: Rob Newman/ X

Newman has spent the past four years as director of public affairs for advertising trade body ISBA (the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers). Before that, he was director of communications for the rightwing thinktank the Henry Jackson Society, and a political adviser to Liz Kendall, current shadow work and pensions secretary and former Labour leadership candidate.

What does the ISBA public affairs team do? According to Newman’s LinkedIn, it “influences necessary and evidence-led change, speaking with one voice to government, parliament, regulators, platform owners, and more.”

29. Jenny Riddell-Carpenter, Labour candidate for Suffolk Coastal

Standing in Suffolk Coastal, Riddell-Carpenter is managing director at the Cratus Group. The public relations company describes itself as helping brands “deliver local and national campaigns, manage political and reputational risks, and influence national policy”. Its clients include KPMG and Clarion, Europe’s largest housing association.

30. Ieuan Môn Williams, Labour candidate for Ynys Môn.

Photo: Ynys Môn Labour

Former head of policy and public affairs for the Nuclear Industry Association, in 2023 Williams set up his own consultancy, IMW Energy. According to PR Week, the consultancy “advises on policy, government affairs and stakeholder engagement”.

31. Ben Coleman, Labour candidate for Chelsea and Fulham

Coleman’s career in public affairs is a long one. Senior consultant at global accounting and tax network BDO, then senior associate at lobbying firm APCO Worldwide, Coleman set up his own agency, Oceans Consulting, in 2001. His specialism is in charities and the public sector.

Polly Smythe is Novara Media’s labour movement correspondent.

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