A senior lobbyist with an international consulting company volunteered to help a Facebook group running anti-SNP adverts during the Scottish election campaign, it has emerged.
Tom Pridham, director of public affairs for FTI Consulting, is secretary of Businesses For The Union (BFTU), a pro-union group now registered with the Electoral Commission following a previous investigation by The Ferret.
Lobbying is legal and part of the democratic process. But concerns have been raised recently over opaque political campaigning on social media in Britain by some lobbyists and political activists.
The Electoral Reform Society has called for greater transparency and told The Ferret that “social media and online campaigning is a wild west that needs improving”.
Pridham is BFTU’s registered secretary. He told The Ferret this was a role carried out on a voluntary basis. The Facebook page for BFTU states “We stand as an independent voice for small Scottish businesses”.
The Ferret reported recently that Matthew Kilcoyne, a UK Government advisor and deputy director at the Adam Smith Institute, was involved with BFTU. A total of £10,549 has been spent on adverts for BFTU since December 2020. BFTU was registered as a non-party campaigner after The Ferret’s article.
Although BFTU has registered as an unincorporated association it does not openly declare the identities and affiliations of those who run the group on any of its social media. BFTU does not name its donors.
Neither Kilcoyne or Pridham acknowledge their involvement with BFTU on any of their personal or professional profiles.
Pridham states on his Twitter profile he is chair of the Shaftesbury Conservative Association. He is a contributor to libertarian media such as Comment Central, and 1828.
Pridham’s LinkedIn page states he was employed as a caseworker for former Conservative MP Victoria Borwick from July 2016 to January 2017.
Tom Brake, director at Unlock Democracy said: “There is a gaping hole in the law covering non-party campaigners. Organisations are emerging weeks before an election, spending huge sums of money from undisclosed sources – which could include money from abroad – on advertising, and then disappearing.
“This area of political campaigning needs regulating to avoid fly by night operators derailing our democracy.”
Willie Sullivan of the Electoral Reform Society said: “The government must listen and act on calls to strengthen the new online imprint/transparency rules if they’re shown to not be working. And if wrongdoing has been done under the current rules, the Electoral Commission clearly needs to investigate. All campaigners need to play fairly.”
Pridham told The Ferret: “This is an unpaid role that I undertake in a personal capacity outside of my work for FTI Consulting.”
FTI Consulting declined to comment.
Kilcoyne previously told The Ferret: “My work at the Adam Smith Institute has nothing to do with the Scottish election and Businesses for the Union is totally independent.
“Thank you for raising awareness of British voices and Scottish businesses that want to retain our Union and avoid the disruption and division another referendum and independence would create. I encourage all unionists to show their support.”
Photo thanks to iStock and Vladislav Zolotov