Paul Hartley looks at how Lynton Crosby’s lobbying activities and influence on UK government policy may include promoting the Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council

The media spotlight on Lynton Crosby’s lobbying activities and influence on government policy has mainly focused on his work for the tobacco and alcohol industries. In doing so, it has missed what is potentially a far more significant relationship. It is now well known that Crosby’s firm, Crosby Textor, carried out lobbying work for a wide range of big businesses. It is less well known that for six months in 2012 it ran a campaign on behalf of the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council.

The relationship between Crosby Textor and the SNC has so far received little media attention or analysis. The facts that are known are that Crosby Textor ran a six month public relations campaign on behalf of the Syrian National Council, for which it was not paid; it placed articles in western newspapers and arranged air time for the SNC’s spokespeople on television, including the BBC and Sky. In a document obtained and published by the Sunday Times last year, a Crosby Textor official wrote, “We believe that the SNC is not winning the important public relations and public affairs battle against the Assad regime in the international media.” Following the campaign, Crosby Textor bid for a £180,000 contract with the SNC, which it lost.

Appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee, William Hague was caught off guard by questions relating to Crosby’s influence on British foreign policy towards Syria. Frank Roy, Labour MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, said that he was worried about “the fact that such an important strategist to the Prime Minister has this relationship with the Syrian National Council at a time when we are now giving more money [to the Syrian rebels].” Mr Hague protested against the line of questioning.

The revelation of the relationship between Crosby and the Syrian National Council raises several important issues. First, of course, we must question the extent to which Crosby has been able to influence the British Government on Syria. Although no direct link between Crosby and British foreign policy has yet been shown, as recent press reports have shown, Crosby’s influence in other policy areas has been significant. Since Crosby was hired as Cameron’s campaign consultant, Britain has led the way in Europe in pushing for a relaxation of the ban on providing weapons to the Syrian rebels.

In an excellent article on the backgrounds of the spokespeople for the Syrian rebellion in the Guardian last year, Charlie Skelton revealed the extent to which top figures in the SNC are already entangled with US think tanks, pressure groups, and big business interests. The SNC’s relationship with Crosby Trexor, and potentially the British Government, should again remind us that it is not a rag-bag group of disorganised rebels, but already permeated with foreign funds and support. The fact that it is able to put a £180,000 commercial PR contract out to tender illustrates the size of the resources available to it and that it is engaged in a media, as well as a ground, war.

We must also bear in mind the nature of the work carried out by Crosby Textor and the company that won the contract. The purpose of PR is to distort media representations of a news story. The war we see on the news is not the war as it is taking place on the ground. Given the powerful interest groups and resources that have been pulled into the Syrian conflict it is more important than ever that we critically assess the news that we receive, and always ask, who is doing the talking and for whom?

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