While not a ministerial member of the Cabinet of Horrors, Chloe Westley occupies a key place in Boris Johnson’s core team and has an horrific record that amply justifies her inclusion here. Her career to date has been mainly devoted to enabling the ultra-wealthy to buy and distort our democracy.
Westley has been put in charge of social media for Number 10, and – unlike some cabinet members – she can at least claim some expertise in her field. But this expertise has been put to the worst possible uses: as the head of social media for Vote Leave, Westley was responsible, with Dominic Cummings, for the most dishonest advertising campaign in British political history.
This involved illegal overspending on the services of AIQ, a sister company of criminal enterprise Cambridge Analytica, to profile and target 1.5 billion ads on individual British voters in the final days of the referendum campaign. These ads were not visible to anyone except their recipients, which made it easier to get away with the outright lies about the EU that they contained.
Following the referendum, Westley seems to have continued to work with AIQ personnel on digital campaigns for ‘Change Britain’, a pro-Brexit organisation set up to exert pressure on MPs. This left her plenty of time to continue promoting tax-cuts for the ultra-rich as a spokesperson for the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). In this role she has made frequent appearances as a panellist on political discussion shows such as the BBC’s Question Time.
Asked about who funds this unaccountable lobbying outfit, Westley has refused to say, while trying to suggest that the organisation is a grassroots campaigning group. But in 2018 the Guardian revealed that the TPA has received very large sums from US donors, including $100,000 originating from a billionaire-founded religious trust incorporated in the Bahamas. Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni worked alongside Westley at both Vote Leave and the TPA before being sacked by the latter for telling the truth about Vote Leave’s criminal activities during the referendum campaign. He described the TPA as ‘a lobbying group pursuing a right-wing political ideology’.
The TPA is part of the Atlas Network, which brings together nearly 500 right-wing organisations around the world and helps them lobby for ‘free’ markets (i.e. unregulated markets operated in the interests of the wealthiest in society). The network is partly funded by fossil fuel money from billionaire donors such as the Koch brothers, which may help explain why the TPA has campaigned against efforts to clean up the air in British cities.
Westley is also notable for the support she has expressed for right-wing extremists, including the founder of the For Britain party, Anne Marie Waters, whom she has hailed as a ‘hero’. On the news that Westley had been appointed to a senior role at Number 10, anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate commented: ‘Anne Marie Waters leads a far-right party with virulent Islamophobia at its core. Calling her a hero was a serious error of judgment, as Westley later admitted. This appointment is deeply concerning.’
Whether or not Westley really thinks praising Waters was an error of judgement, this did not prevent her from forging close links with the UK offshoot of the US far-right group Turning Point – also linked to Islamophobia, far-right conspiracy theorists and racism.
Some might think it an even bigger error of judgement to appoint a person with Westley’s track record to a senior role at the heart of government. But this was not, of course, an error. It was wholly in keeping with a government that has jettisoned any claim to even the most basic standards of political decency, and that will use any methods to achieve its aims.