Emails show UK Government did use public funds for party-political polling

THE UK Government has used taxpayers’ money to conduct party political polling, new documents have revealed.

According to emails obtained by the Good Law Project, which has brought challenges against Boris Johnson’s administration in court, No.10 ordered opinion polling about Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan using public funds.

However the Cabinet office insists the research was essential to find out about public opinion during the pandemic, but was unable to comment further due to ongoing legal proceedings.

HeraldScotland: Sir Keir Starmer

READ MORE: ‘Scandal’ over Gove’s use of pandemic research contract to test attitudes to the Union

In June, a court found the Cabinet Office had acted with apparent bias when it appointed firm Public First, run by allies of Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove, to conduct research during the pandemic without putting the contract out to tender.

The UK Government is appealing the decision.

It comes after the Herald revealed that the Cabinet Office had conducted research into attitudes towards the union, also using taxpayers’ money and emergency coronavirus legislation, but denied it was conducting party political research.

The SNP called for an inquiry and accused the UK Government of a “blatant misuse of public money”  

Now new emails, published by the not-for-profit Good Law Project, show civil servants were uncomfortable about the use of funds for polling on political rivals, by firm Hanbury Strategy – co-founded by ex-Vote Leave campaigner Paul Stephenson, an ally of Mr Cummings.

HeraldScotland:

One email said: “Hanbury measure attitude towards political figures, which they shouldn’t do using government money, but they have been asked to and it’s a battle that i think is hard to fight’.

In March 2020, Mr Cummings sent an email to civil servants urging them to approve polling immediately, saying “Anybody at CABOFF [Cabinet Office] whines tell them I ordered it from PM.”

The involvement of Hanbury Strategy in the polling work raised concerns with civil servants, with another email stating: “This all makes me really uncomfortable.

“Ben Warner wants us to spend £110k of public money per month with the agency who were behind vote leave who have no mainstream polling experience.”

HeraldScotland:

Emails also show that Ben Warner, a former Downing St adviser and player in the Vote Leave campaign, was asking civil servants to contact him via his personal Whatsapp account, rather than through official email, to conduct government business.

One email from Mr Warner to civil servants stated: “Often it’s easier to catch me over WhatsApp than email.’ 

The Whatsapp messages have not been disclosed by the UK Government.

READ MORE: Michael Gove denies Union polling through Covid contract was misuse of public funds

The Labour party says the Conservatives have “abused” the taxpayer, and the emails show “all the hallmarks of a racket”.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said: “This has the hallmarks of a racket, not a government acting in the national interest during a pandemic.

“Taxpayers’ money that has been abused in this way should be paid back by the Conservative Party. Taxpayers’ money is not the personal cashpoint of Conservative Ministers to dish out to their mates.

“We need a fully independent inquiry into the Government contracts that have been handed out over private email and WhatsApp so we can get to the bottom of this scandal.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “In response to an unprecedented global pandemic, the government acted with urgency to undertake vital research into public attitudes and behaviours.

“This research shaped crucial public health messages, helping us to protect the NHS and save lives.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992