James Bethell, the 5th Baron Bethell, is a sitting Conservative hereditary peer and a co-founder of the lobbying consultancy Westbourne Communications where he serves as a “senior counsel”.
Westbourne Communications describes itself as “specialising in campaigns and reputation management” and working “at the heart of the government and the media”.
The firm’s clients included fracking company Cuadrilla, energy supplier Centrica and the British Bankers’ Association.
Westbourne Communications came into the spotlight over its tactics to shut down opposition to projects run by some of the company’s clients.
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 previously 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.
Vice News also reported that the company boasted to fight back against “insurgency tactics” of online campaigners, including anti-fracking activists.
Bethell has extensive contacts in politics, the media and the PR industry and described himself as “a media and political professional”.
He worked for the Republican US Senator Bob Dole, the EU Commissioner Lord Brittan and for David Cameron during the Conservative leadership contest.
He has links and has shown support for right-wing free-markets think tanks which are advocating a hard-Brexit and cutting regulation to ensure global trade deals.
Bethell is the co-author of two papers 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 group operates out of 57 Tufton Street, also home to the pro-Brexit Institute for Free Trade and Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
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”.
He also worked a short stint at Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank, and remains close to the organisation, attending its 2018 summer party.
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”.
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.”
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.
He was a member of the Tooting Conservative Association and ran for candidate in the 2005 general election.
He is the former director of the Nothing British campaign against the BNP.
Bethell was elected to replace Conservative Lord Glentoran as a lifetime hereditary peer in the House of Lords. He was chosen among 10 candidates nominated.
Bethell attended the US ambassador’s party to celebrate Independence Day.
Bethell praised Shanker Singham for his “stellar job” at the Legatum Institute, which has been described as the “Brexiteers’ favourite think tank” and “putting trade on the policy map” as Singham took on a new role as the director of international trade and competition unit at the IEA.
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?”
Bethell put forward his candidacy to replace Lord Lyell as a lifetime hereditary peer in the House of Lords but he was not elected.
Bethell was appointed director of communication at the Policy Exchange. He left the role three months later.
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”.
Bethell ran as the Conservative candidate for Tooting in the general election but lost to Labour candidate Sadiq Khan.