James Bethell

James Bethell

Credentials

  • MA, History and Politics, The University of Edinburgh (1990). [1]
  • Harrow School (1985) . [2]

Background

James Bethell, the 5th Baron Bethell, is a sitting Conservative hereditary peer, having made his name as a leading corporate lobbyist. Bethell co-founded the PR agency Westbourne Communications in 2009 with Stephan Shakespeare, founder of the public opinion polling company, YouGov, and the ConservativeHome website. [3], [4], [5]

He worked for the Republican US Senator Bob Dole, the EU Commissioner Lord Brittan and for David Cameron during the Conservative leadership contest. [6]

Westbourne Communications

Westbourne Communications describes itself as “specialising in campaigns and reputation management” and working “at the heart of the government and the media.” [7]

Bethell was CEO of the company until it merged in 2018 with Cicero Group, another major public affairs agency. He then briefly served as “special counsel” at Cicero until he was elected a lifetime member of the House of Lords. [8], [9]

The firm’s clients have included the fracking company Cuadrilla, energy supplier Centrica, the High Speed 2 rail project and Birmingham Airport. [10]

Westbourne Communications came into the spotlight over its tactics used to counter opposition to projects run by some of the company’s clients. Vice News reported that the company boasted about fighting back against “insurgency tactics” of online campaigners, including anti-fracking activists. [11]

The Guardian reported that Westbourne Communications’ campaign for High Speed Rail (HS2) was accused of “astroturfing” – when a movement is portrayed as a grassroots initiative but is actually run on behalf of corporate interests. Bethell has said that the company has created a “mini-army” to counter HS2 opposition, according to the Guardian. Westbourne Communications insisted that more than 800 businesses and entrepreneurs had backed the campaign. [12]

Westbourne held an event with Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Claire Perry, in July 2018, where Perry announced government plans for a “Green Great Britain Week” in October. The first of a series of “industry forum events,” it was chaired by Westbourne Director of Politics Andrew Smith. [13]

Bethell & Brexit

Bethell  has links and has shown support for right-wing, free-market think tanks which are advocating a “hard” Brexit and cutting regulation to ensure global trade deals.

Bethell previously co-authored a report published by the Centre for Policy Studies, a free-market organisation founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher to promote an ideology of small state and economic liberalism. The think tank is based at 57 Tufton Street, also home to the pro-Brexit Institute for Free Trade and Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). [14]

He also appears to be close to the IEA director general Mark Littlewood tweeting in 2012 that the pair were having birthday drinks with the hashtag “#countdowntocarnage.” [15]

According to his Linkedin profile, he worked briefly as Communications Director at Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank, and remains close to the organisation, attending its 2018 summer party. [1]

Although Bethell hasn’t publicly expressed a strong position on Brexit, he has repeatedly shown support for individuals and organisations pushing for a hard Brexit and cutting regulations to ensure global trade deals.

In September 2017, he tweeted a picture of Michael Howard telling a crowd attending an event by the pro-Brexit platform Brexit Central that he was “longing for Brexit.” Bethell described it as “rousing stuff.” [16]

In a separate Twitter conversation, Bethell said: “Don't forget the EU. They are trying to stop Brexit. And they are currently doing a good job. Brexit is being out manoeuvred.[17]

He was a reporter at the Sunday Times between 1989 and 1992 before co-founding the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London and acted as its managing director for nearly a decade. [1]

He ran as the Tooting Conservative parliamentary candidate in the 2005 general election, losing to Labour’s Sadiq Khan. He is also the former director of the Nothing British campaign against the far-right British National Party. [18]

Key Deeds

July 2018

Bethell was elected to replace Conservative Lord Glentoran as a lifetime hereditary peer in the House of Lords, from 11 candidates nominated. [3]

June 2018

Bethell attended the US ambassador’s party to celebrate Independence Day. [19]

March 2018

Bethell praised Shanker Singham for his “stellar job” at the Legatum Institute, which has been described as the “Brexiteers’ favourite think tank,” and for “putting trade on the policy map” as Singham took on a new role as the director of the international trade and competition unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs. [20], [21], [22]

November 2017

Bethell brushed away reports of Russian meddling in the EU referendum. In a tweet, he said: “nothing concrete materialises except innuendo and a few twitter bots, hardly decisive. Time to do the business or get off the pot?” [23]

March 2017

Bethell put forward his candidacy to replace Lord Lyell as a lifetime hereditary peer in the House of Lords but he was not elected. [24]

September 2009

Bethell was appointed director of communications at the centre-right think-tank, Policy Exchange. He left the role three months later. [1]

February 2009

Bethell founded Westbourne Communications and served as its managing director. He described his role on LinkedIn as “bringing his considerable network in Westminster, Fleet Street and Whitehall to bear on communications issues.” [1]

2005

Bethell ran as the Conservative candidate for Tooting in the general election but lost to Labour candidate Sadiq Khan. [25]

Affiliations

  • Conservative PartyLifetime peer. [9]
  • Westbourne Communications — Co-founder, Managing Director (2009 – 2018) and Senior Counsel (since June 2018). [5], [1]
  • Portland Communications — Managing Director (2005 – 2008). [1]
  • Policy Exchange — Communications Director (2009). [1]
  • U.S. Senator Bob Dole — Employee (unspecified.) [6]
  • David Cameron — Leadership election campaign staffer. [6]
  • The Sunday Times — Former staff reporter. [6]

Social Media

Publications

Resources

  1. James Bethell,” LinkedIn. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  2. James Bethell (OH 80) – Confidence,” The Hall Alumni site, February 21, 2017. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/LafrS

  3. Conservative hereditary peers’ by-election, July 2018: result,” House of Lords, July 18, 2018. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/qQUGH

  4. Oliver Wright. “The lobbyist relying on peer pressure to secure election,” The Times, March 7, 2017. Archived December 19, 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  5. YouGov founder Shakespeare launches PR agency as chairman,” Campaign Live, May 15, 2009. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/uwOVi

  6. Our people,” Westbourne Communications. Archived August 22, 2010. Archived.fo URL: http://archive.fo/tLQlo

  7. Westbourne Communications,” LinkedIn. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  8. David Singleton. “Cicero buys up Westbourne in surprise £7m merger of top agencies,” Public Affairs News, June 19, 2018. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/5LUfU

  9. David Singleton. “James Bethell strikes it second time lucky in bid to get into the Lords,” Public Affairs News, July 18, 2018. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/H44ws

  10. Our clients,” Westbourne Communications. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/6RKEW

  11. Tamsin Cave and Andy Rowell. “The Corporate PR Industry's Sneaky War On Internet Activism,” Vice, March 24, 2014. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/C4QAc

  12. Jamie Doward. “High-speed rail opponents 'portrayed as posh nimbys' by peer's lobbying firm,” Guardian, April 6, 2013. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/kwepk

  13. Andrew Smith. “Energy Minister unveils ‘Green Great Britain’ Week at ‘in conversation’ event,” Westbourne Communications, July 19, 2018. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/1gp7P

  14. James Bethell, Simon Brocklebank-Fowler, Andrew Honnor, Andrew Reid. “Blue Skies Ahead: Recapturing the Missing Generation,” Centre for Policy Studies, 1997. Archived December 19, 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  15. Birthday drinks with @MarkJLittlewood at the IEA #countdowntocarnage,” Tweet by @JimBethell, April 27, 2012. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  16. “I am longing for Brexit”. Rousing stuff from Michael Howard at @BrexitCentral birthday,” Tweet by @JimBethell, September 13, 2017. Retrived from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  17. Don't forget the EU. They are trying to stop Brexit. And they are currently doing a good job. Brexit is being out manoeuvred.” Tweet by @JimBethell, July 6, 2017. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  18. James Bethell: Profile,” Guardian. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/HeNxg

  19. Great to spend time at the US Ambassadors Independence Day celebrations in his stunning house.” Tweet by @JimBethell, June 29, 2018. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  20. Good luck to Shanker & Co who’ve done a stellar job at Legatum putting trade on the policy map and will undoubtedly make a huge contribution to discussions around Brexit at wonderful new IEA home.” Tweet by @JimBethell, July 6, 2017. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  21. Mat Hope, Richard Collett-White. “Mapped: How Brexit Lobbyists Give Climate Science Deniers Privileged Access to the UK Government,” DeSmog, July 3, 2018.

  22. Peter Geoghegan, “Legatum: the Brexiteers’ favourite think tank. Who is behind them?,” openDemocracy, November 26, 2017. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/OtTFV

  23. People keep telling me that a major revelation on Russia’s links to pro Brexit campaign imminent. Interesting!. But nothing concrete materialises except innuendo and a few twitter bots, hardly decisive. Time to do the business or get off the pot?,” Tweet by @JimBethell, November 26, 2017. Retrieved from Twitter.com. Archived .png on file at DeSmog.

  24. David Singleton. “Bethell misses out on Lords seat,” Public Affairs News, March 27, 2017. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/dEfKc

  25. Sarah Halls. “Labour hold Tooting,” Your Local Guardian, May 6, 2005. Archived December 19, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/FcEUd

Other Resources

Photo Credit: Hall School Alumni site