SHARE
FacebookEmailShare

Charismatic Christian Populist


Sir Paul Marshall, Media Mogul

It’s no secret press barons help make the news in the UK, but some press barons matter more than others.

Touched by the hand of capitalism. Marshall, 2023.

However, one rising star who should be on every hack’s radar: Sir Paul Marshall, the man behind GB News and UnHerd.

Not only is Marshall worth a fortune. He may be about to buy The Telegraph Group and, with it, The Spectator. Buying The Telegraph alone would elevate Marshall to the ranks of Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere.

Far from a fading figure, Marshall could be the dominant player in UK media in years to come. Rupert Murdoch is 93, and his son Lachlan may decide to wind up The Sun and other newspapers that are no longer generating fat profits.

Marshall helped establish GB News and UnHerd as counterweights to the mainstream liberal media. Both outfits are tailor-made for the Great British culture wars, but neither has the influence of a national newspaper.

The Telegraph titles and The Spectator are a step up in past prestige and present influence. These publications are up for sale because Lloyd’s Bank took the publishing company out of the hands of the Barclay family over an outstanding debt.

Fellow hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who is worth around $35 billion, is reportedly preparing to back Marshall’s takeover bid. Griffin is a Republican mega-donor who has spent millions of dollars backing Donald Trump and Ron De Santis.

This isn’t so surprising for a right-wing media tycoon, except Marshall once supported the Liberal Democrats. But his journey from the liberal centre to the populist right is less unusual than it might appear.

Faith and Fortune

Today, Marshall is part owner of GB News, but his political history goes back to the 1980s when he was a fresh-faced researcher for SDP politician Charles Kennedy. He later stood for Parliament in Fulham in the 1987 general election.

At the time, Marshall was running on the SDP-Liberal ticket against the Conservative candidate Matthew Carrington. He ultimately didn’t win the seat, but he stayed loyal when the two parties merged.

It’s surprising enough that Marshall was a Liberal Democrat for most of his life. What’s even more astonishing is that he is reportedly an Evangelical Christian who subscribes to the Charismatic movement.

Marshall is one of the wealthy members of the Holy Trinity Brompton, a centre of the Charismatic Church. He has attended the Knightsbridge church since 1997, when he co-founded Marshall Wace LLP.

You’ve probably never heard of Holy Trinity Brompton. That’s because it’s a rich man’s church. It’s a network of more than 100 congregations and 30 large churches. Marshall is a board member of its Church Revitalisation Trust.

According to theologian Andrew Graystone, Marshall believes he has a calling from God. He believes that the “resentment industry” has captured the Church of England. Make of that what you will.

Charismatic Christians believe they can encounter the Holy Spirit through “ecstatic experiences”, as Graystone explained in Prospect. They also believe God’s approval of them is expressed in their growing wealth.

And Marshall knows a lot about wealth. After twenty-five years in business, Marshall Wace was managing over $64 billion in assets. The firm has offices in London, Hong Kong, New York City, Shanghai and Singapore.

Marshall co-founded the firm with its other namesake, Ian Wace, with £50 million. They put up £25 million and turned to liberal Hungarian financier George Soros to match their investment.

By 2020, The Sunday Times Rich List estimated Marshall’s net worth to be £630 million. He is now reportedly worth around £800 million and spends an estimated £5.5 million a month on charity, according to The Sunday Times Giving List.

Marshall’s primary charitable focus is education. He is the chairman of ARK Schools, which manages 39 primary and secondary academies across England. These schools are primarily based in diverse, working-class areas.

He is also the co-founder of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, launched in 2023 with support from the Legatum Group. Marshall gave a speech at the inaugural ARC conference (notice a pattern here?) on the threat of three mutant capitalisms.

During his ARC speech Marshall called for a revival of laissez-faire capitalism via new corporate governance rules. He vowed new governance would herald a return to “the invisible hand”. His faith in the free market has not dulled with time.

The hedge fund manager believes that the liberal tradition has lost its Christian moorings, according to Graystone. What this really means requires more digging into Marshall’s political record.

Liberalism Against Europe

After making a killing in asset management, Marshall became a major donor to the Lib Dems and remained loyal until 2015. He even co-edited The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism with David Laws.

This book was a free-market manuscript, with contributions from Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, and current leader Ed Davey. At the time, Marshall identified with the old English tradition of classical liberalism.

However, Marshall was also part of the Eurosceptic tradition. There was always a minority of liberals and social democrats who supported Brexit, but the Liberal Democrats were not a haven for this viewpoint.

In 2015, he broke with the Lib Dems over Brexit and decided to go all out for the Leave campaign. Once the referendum was over, Marshall backed Michael Gove’s doomed bid to become Tory leader.

Even before he left the Lib Dems, Marshall became close to Gove during his time as education secretary. He helped bankroll Gove’s absurd plan to send a copy of the King James Bible (with an introduction by Gove) to schools across the land.

This may be a long, strange trip, but a thread runs from the Lib Dems through Brexit to GB News: libertarianism. This is a lot like Liz Truss’s journey, except her destination was irrelevance, and her layover was Downing Street.

Marshall is a Eurosceptic because he sees the European project as a protectionist bloc. He was a free trader by instinct, but his Euroscepticism has changed over time. It wasn’t just bad trade policy; it was bad immigration policy, too.

After backing Gove, Marshall cheered on Theresa May as the new Iron Lady, the Brexit prime minister. He saw another ‘great opportunity’ when May decided to call an early election in June 2017.

“The alternative is she risks being increasingly hamstrung by a parliament bogged down in denial,” Marshall told the Financial Times at the time. “A victory will give her the mandate she needs to negotiate strongly.”

It’s easy to forget now, but many people thought May was Thatcher 2.0. A lot of people were expecting her to win a landslide victory and rule Britain with an iron fist for the next 10 years. Marshall was one of them.

“Britain is in an unfrozen moment,” Marshall told the FT. “We have an opportunity to remake our economy to work out how we fit into the world, what is our strategy, what is our place, our role.”

Instead, the Labour vote surged to 40% despite the media onslaught against Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories won a historic 42% of the national vote, but the sudden jump in Labour votes cost them a majority in Parliament.

Amidst this chaos, Marshall bankrolled the first of his media ventures: UnHerd. At first, it would be a liberal-conservative online magazine publishing the likes of Ruth Davidson. But it would become so much more.

Upstart Empire

Working with Tory operative Tim Montgomerie, Marshall helped establish UnHerd as a new contrarian media outfit for slow journalism. Much like Marshall, Montgomerie is also a Christian with a sense of mission.

Once a centre-right project, UnHerd has come into its own in the age of COVID-19 lockdowns and the culture wars over trans rights. Now, it is a post-liberal project bringing together hard-right libertarians and conservative social democrats.

Ahead of the 2019 election, Marshall donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party war chest. He was determined to see Brexit done and keep Labour out of power. Boris Johnson proved to be the right horse to bet on (at least in December 2019).

The Tories romped home with 43% of the vote, just 1% more than in 2017. But it was a glorious triumph for Johnson and the Brexit cause. Labour’s vote collapsed to 32%, costing the opposition 50 Leave seats.

Now, in 2024, Marshall’s broadcast project GB News has a generous contract with Johnson to present his own talk show. He hasn’t appeared yet, but he was signed to do so with much fanfare back in October.

Marshall teamed up with fellow Christian financier Christopher Chandler, who is behind the Legatum Group based in Dubai, to set up GB News. Legatum and Marshall each own 41% of All Perspectives Ltd., GB News’s holding company.

If and when Johnson finally appears, he will have the company of fellow politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage, Lee Anderson, Esther McVey and Gloria De Piero, among others. It’s quite a list.

Many national newspapers have published MPs and some have had politicians on the payroll (including Boris), but GB News is probably the first UK broadcaster to have sitting MPs as presenters.

Andrew Neil famously jumped ship early on because he saw GB News as too close to the ‘nutty’ elements of the conservative populist right. He was reportedly opposed to teaming up with Nigel Farage, for example.

Like it or loathe it, Marshall has established GB News as a conservative challenger to the liberal broadcasters. Yet some in Marshall’s inner circle claim his views haven’t really changed.

“He is not in any way aligned with any brand of conservatism currently being peddled,” one friend told the Financial Times in March. “His position has stayed consistent. It is the rest of the world that has travelled to the left.”

This is very hard to believe for many reasons. Most of all Marshall was supporting the Lib Dems when his old boss Charles Kennedy was giving speeches against the Iraq war. The Lib Dems were far more progressive then than GB News is today.

Moral Capitalism

It’s still difficult to pin down Marshall’s worldview from all of this. He’s a kind of old English liberal who believes in free markets and free trade, but he’s also a devout Christian and a Eurosceptic who believes in strong nation-states.

This is why the news of Marshall’s activity on X, formerly known as Twitter, has been so interesting. In February, antifascist campaign group Hope Not Hate, working with The News Agents podcast, published findings on Marshall’s Twitter activity.

The researchers looked at Marshall’s posts and likes since he restricted access to his account in 2023. Marshall changed his Twitter account to ‘protected’ in September last year. These changes coincided with reports he was preparing to buy The Telegraph.

All identifying information was conveniently removed at the time, while ‘protected’ mode allowed the user to vet his followers. He changed his handle from @prcmarshall to @aeropagus123 in honour of John Milton’s Aeropagitica.

This research highlighted posts about Islam, immigration and LGBT rights. Marshall retweeted and liked posts claiming there is a creeping Islamic takeover of Western society. Other posts he liked called for the mass expulsion of Muslims.

“If we want European civilisation to survive we need to not just close the borders but start mass expulsions immediately,” said Eva Vlaardingerbroek in the original post. “We don’t stand a chance unless we start that process very soon.”

Vlaardingerbroek is a Dutch far-right campaigner, who subscribes to the Great Replacement and the Great Reset conspiracy theories. She once called on people to “reject globalism and embrace God” at the 2022 NatCon conference in Brussels.

Marshall also retweeted a meme shared by Carl Benjamin claiming: “The other side is so passionate, so committed to worshipping Satan, evil, homosexuality and corrupting children that even if god wasn’t real, believing in him to fend these demons off is preferrable.”

Other retweets and likes include content from pro-Trump campaigner Amy Mek and anti-Muslim comedian Pat Condell. He also liked posts from Radio Genoa praising Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a “true leader” for opposing LGBT rights.

After Hope Not Hate approached Marshall for comment, the Twitter account removed 300 likes. In response to the research, Marshall issued a statement stressing this sample of posts does not represent his views.

Many people think you can’t marry conservative Christian values with liberal politics, but they’re wrong and don’t know anything about history. Liberal ideology has always had space for conservative values within its framework of rights and freedoms.

It’s easy to forget the long history of Protestant industrialists who sought to express their virtues through charity and patronage. This was perfectly compatible with opposition to big government and support for the free market.

This is how Marshall represents the old and the new. He is at once a buccaneer capitalist from the globalised financial class and a man who believes business is a moral force to change the world.

In short, Paul Marshall wants to reclaim capitalism from the Davos men. But if you want to know what kind of world Marshall wants us to live in, just tune into GB News and take in the fumes of the culture war.

Please support The Battleground. Subscribe to our free newsletter and make a donation to ensure our continued growth and independence.

Photograph courtesy of ARC Forum. Published under a Creative Commons license.