The ‘Jobs Foundation’ and the right-wing war on ‘woke capitalism’

Like many a mad culture war trend peddled by the political right in the US, cries against ‘woke capitalism’ are advancing in Britain.

Right-Wing Watch

The Jobs Foundation. Sounds innocent enough. But at a closer look, it seems that Britain’s newly created ‘charity’ formed by high-profile business leaders and political figures to ‘unleash the power of business,’ shares some similarities with the fight against ‘woke capitalism’ that has been growing in the US, driven, principally, by right-wing opportunists, companies with fossil fuel interests, and ‘free-market’ climate sceptic think-tanks.

For much of the reactionary right in the US, a business that looks beyond profit and signals its support for progressive causes, specifically a focus on environment, social and governance (ESG) issues, is something to object to.

Leading the anti-ESG charge is Ron DeSantis. In February, the Florida governor announced that the Sunshine State would move to ban local and state issuers from consideration of environmental, social and governance factors when floating bonds. 

The announcement followed his earlier pledge to pull $2bn of Florida’s investment from BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world and a leading player in the ESG movement, over its ‘woke’ investment policies.
“We are protecting Floridians from woke capital and asserting the authority of our constitutional system over ideological corporate power,” said the Republican contender for the 2024 presidential nomination.

This is the man who has also spent the last year locking horns with Walt Disney Company. DeSantis was nervous that Disney would use its economic clout to wound and kill off his controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill.’ Disney bosses labelled the bill, which limits what schoolteachers can say about ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ to children under the age of ten, as ‘unacceptable.’  But Republicans seem to be getting cold feet with the president-hopeful, whose career has been full of opportunistic shifts towards whichever cause would benefit him the most, and his poll ratings have started to sag. Taking on Disney, it seems, was not the smartest political career move for DeSantis to have made.

Nonetheless, the ‘anti-woke hero’ – as the Daily Mail has lauded him – is not alone in the war on ‘woke capitalism.’ Fellow GOP 2024 hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, has long expressed strong criticism of ‘woke capitalism.’ During an appearance on Fox News in June, the wealthy biotech entrepreneur laid into ‘woke capitalism,’ condemning companies that are ‘bad for our civic culture.’

And such rhetoric is, dangerously, translating into policy. In 2023 so far, Republican lawmakers in 37 states have introduced 165 anti-ESG proposals. According to a report by the strategic research and advisory firm Pleiades Strategy, the legislation has been introduced to “weaponise government funds, contracts, and pensions to prevent companies and investors from considering commonplace risk factors in making responsible, risk-adjusted investment decisions.”

“The trend has been rampant,” said Connor Gibson, co-author the report.

Such bills have received backing from fossil-fuel linked groups. One being the Texas Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank which is, as the New York Times reports, shaping laws, running influence campaigns, and taking legal action in a bid to promote fossil fuels. The influential think-tank has received funding from organisations linked to the Kochs, as well as ExxonMobil, which has a long history of climate change denial.

Pleiades Strategy’s report also found that the proposals bear strong resemblances to model bills crafted or circulated by four influential right-wing think-tanks – the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heritage Foundation (which has had a long and cosy relationship with UK Conservatives and is closely associated with Liz Truss and deputy PM Oliver Dowden), the Heartland Institute and the Foundation for Government Accountability. These organisations are affiliated with the far-right think-tank, State Policy Network, which has received funding from groups linked to fossil fuel billionaires, Charles and the late David Koch. The US’s largest oil and gas lobbying organisation, the American Petroleum Institute, has been focused on shaping anti-ESG policies, the researchers also found.

Like many a mad culture war trend peddled by the political right in the US, cries against ‘woke capitalism’ are advancing in Britain, where our right-wing media and political commentators, who are well known for their antipathy of ‘wokeness,’ aren’t holding back. The high-profile fall-out over Britain’s most prestigious bank closing Nigel Farage’s account has seemed to embolden those in opposition to so-called ‘woke capitalism.’ A ‘hyper-woke’ bank, cried the Sun this week. But more on Farage and Coutts shortly.

Take a look at this piece by Andrew Gimson, a contributing editor to ConservativeHome.

Sharing similar beef towards BlackRock as Ron DeSantis, Gimson points to a letter to CEOs by BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink in 2022, as supposed ‘proof’ of how ‘wokery has become influential.’ The author pulls out a number of citations from Fink’s letter that he takes particular objection to, such as CEOs ‘must be thoughtful about how they use their voice and connect on social issues important to their employees.’ At no point does Gimson consider that Fink might be right, as positive culture is regularly ranked as a number one priority among many employees. In fact, according to a survey from Monster, 83% of Gen-Z candidates said a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important.

But, according to Gimson, it’s the older generations that we should be wary of in this discussion. Taking aim at the Sixties generation, the author insists that it is because of those people who grew up in the 1960s, ‘when a cultural revolution occurred which had its most formative effect on teenagers,’ now ‘running the show’ that we are suffering the ‘excess of woke capitalism.’

Gimson is quick to remind that Fink was born in 1952 and grew up in California. Hell, a double whammy! I suspect that Gimson’s arithmetic might not add up. Fink might still be in charge at 70 but most of the 60s’ generation will be retired now. I know Bob Dylan sang about ‘staying forever young’ but Gimson is stretching this thesis rather too far. The article gets even more absurd, with the author claiming that the ‘influence of the Sixties revolution lasted long after a decade, and gradually became institutionalised.’ To make matters worse, the ‘anti-Sixties people, those whose morality was formed in the 1950s or earlier, have died out.’

Fortunately, not all ConHome readers were convinced by Gimson’s argument. As one reader wrote: “Fink et al are doing nothing more than espousing sound managerial practice…. it has nothing to do with woke.”

From the downright ridiculous to the outright misleading, check out this piece in the Sun.

‘Stop preaching’ Only one per cent of Brits think businesses should preach about social issues,’ is the headline.

The article is based on recent polling for the Jobs Foundation, an organisation which the Sun describes as having launched to ‘get more people in the workplace and pull people out of poverty.’ The poll asked 2145 UK adults their thoughts on different priorities for businesses. Pricing of products (42%), quality of products (34%) and creating jobs (31%) were the top three concerns for consumers. Other significant concerns were net zero carbon emissions (21%), ESG standards (13%), and corporate responsibility (11%).

But unbelievably – or perhaps not so unbelievably – the Sun cherrypicked the least concerning focus stipulated among consumers, grossly distorting the findings, and shouting about the 1% who say they don’t like companies saying they like campaigning on social issues.

Take a look here at the ‘real’ results, it’s incredible, how stupid does the Sun really think people are!

Climate change denial and anti-ESG sentiment

Despite being found to be a leading concern among consumers, concerns about businesses net zero carbon emissions didn’t get a mention in the Sun’s report. Unsurprising, when you consider climate change denial is said to be at the heart of the anti-ESG movement, with ESG funds screening out stocks considered environmentally harmful.

Murdoch’s flagship UK tabloid is not the only newspaper to be bigging up the Jobs Foundation. When the organisation was launched in early July, the Telegraph was quick to promote it. The article focuses on Matthew Elliott, the group’s president, who speaks about the ‘bad rap’ businesses ‘all too often’ get. He continues that the organisation will champion the ‘incredible work the vast majority of business leaders do.’

And Matthew Elliot is certainly no stranger for pushing for what he believes in, namely a libertarian free-market ideology. Together with his wife, Sarah Elliott, the pair have been described as a ‘UK power couple’ who link ‘US libertarians and fossil fuel lobbyists to Brexit.’  The couple were both senior members of the Leave campaign, – Matthew was its chief executive. They were said to have aimed to use Brexit as an opportunity to slash regulations in the UK. Elliott is also the founder and former chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a UK lobby group which campaigns for a low tax society. The political strategist who spearheaded the official Brexit campaign sits at the nub of a group of “hard Brexit” campaigners closely linked to the UK’s climate science deniers and other anti-regulation think tanks. As DeSmog reports, Elliott has criticised government interventions to tackle climate change and protect the environment, and has been credited with trying to replicate the U.S. Libertarian Tea Party movement in Britain.

And Matthew Elliott isn’t the only high-profile Brexit-backing figure with connections to influential climate sceptic right-wing think-tanks to be involved in the Jobs Foundation.

Chief executive of the ‘charity’ (which is how the Telegraph describes it) is Georgina Bristol. Boasting a Brexit-backing, Tory campaigning CV, Bristol has worked for BrexitCentral, was development director for Vote Leave, and head of regional fundraising for the Conservative Party from 2017 – 2018. She was also development director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign donations and is part of the right-wing network that promotes free market capitalism around the world.

Another notable Jobs Foundation figure is Victoria Hewson, who is a trustee. A fellow Leave voter, Hewson is senior counsel in the Institute for Economic Affairs’ International Trade and Competition Unit. The IEA was of course the think-tank which had a significant influence on Liz Truss and championing her disastrous mini-budget. As well as being one of the most politically influential think-tanks in the UK,  the IEA has issued many a publication arguing that climate change is either not significantly driven by human activity or will be positive. 

Nigel Baxter is another Trustee and prominent Brexiteer who is managing director of RH Commercial Vehicles – a large Renault truck dealer. In 2020, Baxter claimed the UK is “already seeing the benefits of leaving the EU.”

And look who’s on the Job Foundation’s advisory panel. Our old friend Lord Cruddas of Shoreditch. Yes, the banker and major Tory Party donor who was nominated for peerage in 2020 even though the Lords Appointments Commission opposed it because of historical allegations he had offered ‘access’ to David Cameron in exchange for donations to the party, is among the big names involved with the new organisation. In 2021, it was reported that Lord Cruddas had given more than £3m to the Conservatives since 2010. He is also president of the Boris Johnson-backing Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) which bids to ‘take back control’ of the Tory party.

Though it has to be said, the individuals involved with the organisation are not exclusively Tory-connected. Lord Jon Mendelsohn, a politically connected lobbyist who has been a Labour member of the British House of Lords since 2013, sits on the group’s advisory council. Mendelsohn has also been actively involved in the gambling sector for some time, having co-founded Oakvale Capital LLP, is a leading M&A and strategic advisory boutique focused on gaming, gambling and sports. He is also chairman of the 888 gambling group.

As Right-Wing Watch has said before, from voter suppression to climate change denial, numerous crazy and dangerous ideas from the American right are gaining worrying traction in Britain. And the latest favourite gripe among many Republicans, that is opposition towards ‘woke capitalism,’ is gaining momentum in the UK. The Jobs Foundation insists it is focused on alleviating unemployment and poverty. While such intentions seem honourable, being propped up by a number of Brexit-backing, free-market endorsing individuals, some with links to companies with fossil fuel interests, and climate sceptic think-tanks, you can’t help but feel that this newly formed group will be picking up on the US right-wing campaign to oppose businesses that show a commitment to progressive causes and social and environment sustainability for inclusive growth and a just transition.

Watch this space.

Right-Wing Media Watch – Nigel Farage bank closure fallout dominates Tory newspaper front pages virtually ALL week  

Nigel Farage isn’t giving up on his mission to shame the bank that he insists closed his accounts because of his political views. Armed with a 40-page dossier he obtained from Coutts, the former UKIP leader claims the bank clearly states his views ‘do not align with our values.’

Coutts bank, meanwhile, has hit back, saying it does not close customer accounts “solely on the basis of legally held political and personal views.”

As Farage’s banking affairs drag on, the right-wing Tory press have had a right old field day on the ‘revelation.’ Not only was it the front-page story of the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail on July 18, but it doubled up as front-page news in the Mail, the Telegraph, and the Times the following day as well.

Talk about irony. The supposed ‘man of the people’ Farage can’t have an elite bank account and has to make do with a normal NatWest account. Another classic example of the Tory press focusing on irrelevant culture war nonsense while ignoring more pressing political stories, in this case, the byelections in Uxbridge, Selby and Somerton.

Sigh, the bank account meltdown has even been used by right-wing circles to have another stab at their favourite irritation – the BBC.

The BBC had previously reported that the reason behind the bank closure, was because Farage had fallen below the financial threshold needed for an account, citing a source familiar with the move. This obviously grated on the nerves of the GB News host and the usual BBC ‘woke’ bashers. The ex-UKIP leader accused the BBC of falling for ‘spin’ as he restated that he had been ‘cancelled’ for his political views.

The Spectator meanwhile even went so far as to suggest the BBC should apologise to Nigel Farage.

‘Oh dear. It seems that Auntie has done it again,’ wrote Steerpike, in a piece mocking the BBC for its business editor Simon Jack’s threshold requirements’ suggestion.

ConHome made it their lead article in Thursday’s newsletter, leading with Rishi Sunak’s comments on the row and assertion that ‘free speech is the cornerstone of our democracy.’

GB News presenter Dan Wootton – who hasn’t had the best of weeks, with allegations developing that he used a pseudonym to secretly offer current and former Sun colleagues tens of thousands of pounds in return for sexual material – gave his predictable take on the row. The self-styled ‘anti-woke’ presenter and columnist told viewers that ’de-banking threatens our freedom’ and the ‘sinister and communist-style politicisation of our banks should terrify every Brit who believes in democracy.’

It makes you wonder; would the same commentators and media be so excited if Just Stop Oil or Extinction Rebellion had been denied bank accounts? A rhetorical question of course, as we all know the answer.

The Farage bank closure meltdown and its domination in the news agendas all week is further testimony of the right-wing press’s love of stirring up culture war rubbish at the expense of more important political stories, perhaps as a means of distraction? It is also further evidence of Britain’s growing assault on ‘woke’ banks, and the wider anti ‘woke capitalism’ movement, which has come straight from the Republican playbook.

First there was the Daily Mail’s random claims that Halifax had seen a ‘mass exodus’ of customers after it, apparently, told those who disagreed with its ‘latest woke policy’ to go elsewhere. The woke policy the Mail was referring to, was employees at the bank having the choice of adding pronouns to their name badges.

More recently, the Sunday Express decided to devote its entire front-page to ‘woke’ banks, apparently being a ‘risk to national security.’

In an ‘exclusive’ on July 8, the unashamedly anti-woke newspaper spoke of banks ‘refusal to do business with Britain’s defence industry’, which has, apparently, ‘raised concerns about national security and the potential collapse of military firms.’

The same narrative had surfaced in the wake of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in the US. Leading the US charge was House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer, who took to Fox News to describe the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) as “one of the most woke banks.” Why? Because of its investment in ‘ESG-policy’ and ‘DEI’ – DEI meaning diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Donald Trump Jr chimed in, saying: “SVB is what happens when you push a leftist/woke ideology and have that take precedent over common sense business practices.” This is the same person who, earlier this year, blamed a ‘woke bank’ after one of his business accounts was accidentally closed.

It seems Nigel Farage might have an ideological doppelganger in the form of Donald Trump Jr. Oh dear!

Woke bashing of the week – Right relish over a woke ‘busting’ app

Continuing the subject of anti ‘woke capitalism,’ take a look at this piece in the Daily Mail. Yet further proof of how UK right is desperately ramping up its attack on ‘woke’ businesses, mindlessly following their US counterparts’ (at least ideologically) like sheep, the Mail drools over a ‘woke-busting app’ that ‘allows shoppers to scan grocery items so they don’t buy from brands owned or run by bleeding-heart liberals.’

The app is known as Veebs and enables customers to scan items to check if the brand supports woke values.

Now a quick look at the Veebs website, and it’s not obvious whether the app is encouraging or discouraging consumers to shop with brands that prioritise inclusivity and being socially responsible. It looks like it is completely neutral, simply allowing shoppers to check a brand’s values. The user then, presumably, can decide whether they want or don’t want to buy from that brand.

But that’s not what the Daily Mail would have us believe. In another misleading piece deliberately aimed at venting more fury towards ‘wokeness,’ the newspaper cites a TikTok video, apparently advertising the new software, while showing a woman scanning various items in a grocery store and buying items that do not support woke values.

The TikTok influencer picks up some tampons and finds that Tampax — which, as the Mail keenly points out, had an ad featuring Dylan Mulvaney, the transgender influencer at the heart of the furore the beer company Bud Light came under for partnering with her — and therefore scored low on her values rating, but its rival Playtex scored higher.

The article quotes one ‘delighted’ anti-woke shopper, who left the following review on the App Store:

‘I’m a conservative mama bear, and I’ve been looking for something like this for a few years now. All I can say is bless you, Veebs, and to all the companies shoving their ideas on me and my family — bye.’

Says it all really.

The rest of the article is focused on showering more aversion towards Mulvaney and Bud Light’s decline in sales, apparently, for teaming up with her.

Honestly, you’d think the right-wing freak-out over a trans influencer and Bud Light would have died a death by now. It just shows how pathetically desperate and bereft of ideas these lot really are.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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