Rightwing thinktank pulls funds for Commons groups after disclosure row

HJS logoA rightwing thinktank, accused of pushing an anti-Muslim agenda, has pulled funding for two parliamentary groups which focused on homeland and international security after refusing to disclose its donors to the Commons’ standards watchdog.

In a ruling earlier this month the parliamentary commissioner for standards upheld complaints against the homeland security and transatlantic and international security parliamentary groups for taking secretariat support from a neoconservative thinktank where Tory chief whip Michael Gove was a former trustee, without getting assurances over its funding.

The Henry Jackson Society, a registered charity, had provided an office and staff to organise meetings for the two groups, chaired by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin and Labour MP Gisela Stuart. The arrangement also saw the society’s political director, Davis Lewin, and its events manager, Hanna Nomm, given Commons passes as part of this support.

The agreement was terminated after the standards’ commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, said the society should “make available on request a list citing any commercial company which had donated more than £5,000 either as a single sum or cumulatively in the last 12 months”. The society declined and pulled the funding. A spokesman said: “Our donors are entitled to privacy. We do not wish to expose them to unwarranted funding requests by publishing their details.”

The thinktank has attracted controversy in recent years – with key staff criticised in the past for allegedly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant comments. Its associate director, Douglas Murray, complained last year that London had “become a foreign country” because white Britons were a minority in 23 of 33 London boroughs. Murray has also been pictured with Robert Spencer, the far-right US anti-Islam campaigner banned last year from Britain by the Home Office.

In 2012 its then director William Shawcross, who runs the Charity Commission, said “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future”.

The complaint was lodged by Spinwatch, which campaigns for greater transparency in public and corporate life. It said it was concerned the society would not even “comply with Parliament’s modest new transparency rules”.

David Miller, a professor of sociology and co-founder of Spinwatch, said the society was “actively avoiding transparency, preferring to ply its trade in the subterranean fashion beloved of the lobbying industry. It is time that all-party parliamentary groups came clean on their corporate and other significant funders so the public and indeed parliamentarians can be clear exactly who is trying to influence their views and behaviour.”

Miller said Spinwatch had combed through public records in the US and UK to find out just who donated to the and says that the rightward drift in the Henry Jackson Society has coincided with a hefty rise in donations.

In 2009 Spinwatch believed that the society’s total income was £98,000 – a little more than the previous year. This then jumped to £321,000 in 2010 before rising sharply to £815,000 in 2011, until it raked in a high of £1,313,000 in 2013.

Much of the money has come from Tory donors such as the Atkin Charitable Foundation, a London-based charity founded by a British businessman turned philanthropist Edward Atkin. It first financed the HJS in 2010 with a modest £5,000 grant, but subsequently the amounts increased considerably, totalling £375,000 between 2011 and 2013.

The Stanley Kalms foundation, named after the Dixons boss, also gave the society £100,000 last year. Baron Kalms, once a big Tory donor, called then shadow foreign secretary William Hague an “ignorant armchair critic” for criticising Israel’s actions in the 2006 war in Lebanon. He was expelled from the Tory party in 2009 after voting for Ukip.

Another donor is Nina Rosenwald, whose Abstraction Fund donated $10,000 to HJS via a US fundraising arm, the American Friends of the Henry Jackson Society. Rosenwald also finances the US-based rightwing Gatestone Institute which publishes Douglas Murray’s writing alongside Geert Wilders, the founder and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom who has declared he “hates Islam”.

Miller said: “in recent years, the Henry Jackson Society has become increasingly anti-Islam, expressing views characteristic of the far right. Its anti-Islam orientation appears to have garnered it increasing support from a range of conservative funders in both the UK and US. While it continues to pose as favouring a moral approach to foreign policy, it is dabbling in the politics of hate in an approach which is supposed to be the opposite of British values of fair play and the rule of law.”

A spokesman for the Henry Jackson Society said that “in compliance with the new parliamentary rules, we are no longer secretariat of the all-parliamentary groups in question. We do not comment on individual donors,” adding that claims the charity was anti-Islam were “scurrilous and unfounded”.

“Having failed to win the arguments with us in policy terms, our critics are doing what all those who have failed in the public domain resort to in desperate times – playing the man rather than the ball. We trust that ordinary people can see through their spin and lies to focus on the good work we are doing for the benefit of British society.”

Guardian, 30 December 2014

Update:  See “Has the Henry Jackson Society been trying to buy influence in parliament?”, Middle East Monitor, 2 January 2015

And “Henry Jackson Society – who pays?”, Zelo Street, 2 January 2015

Update:  See also “Henry Jackson Society funded by the Islamophobia industry must be stripped of its charitable status”, Coolness of Hind, 1 January 2015