*Tory strategist’s pitch detailed how CTF Partners would spread negative stories about Qatar and press FIFA to ‘restart bidding process’
Sir Lynton Crosby, one of the world’s best-known political operatives, offered to work on a campaign to cancel the 2022 Qatar World Cup and get it awarded to another country in return for £5.5mn, according to a leaked plan that gives a rare insight into his activities.
The detailed pitch document – “a proposal for a campaign to bring about the termination of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar” – was written in April last year and personally signed by Crosby.
He said that if engaged, his lobbying firm, CTF Partners, would require £300,000 a month for 18 months to focus on efforts to put pressure on FIFA to “restart the bidding process” and award the World Cup to another country.
As part of the pitch document, named “Project Ball”, Crosby said CTF Partners could set up full-time war rooms around the world to spread negative stories about Qatar in the mainstream media, run fake grassroots campaigns on social media, and lobby potentially friendly politicians, journalists and academics.
The pitch offers a glimpse into the secretive services offered by the Australian political strategist. Following success in his homeland he helped run the last four Conservative general election campaigns. He was given a knighthood by the former prime minister David Cameron after helping to secure an unexpected Conservative-majority government in the 2015 general election.
Crosby’s potential client for Project Ball was a Qatari based in London named Khalid al-Hail, who faced repeated questions over his funding and the nature of his campaign activities in London, which include his businesses paying MPs and prominent football players to appear at anti-Qatar events. His events have often aligned with the foreign policy objectives of Qatar’s regional opponents in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Al-Hail has previously insisted the funding is from his personal wealth; he denies receiving money from governments.
Crosby’s lawyers said no contract with al-Hail was ever entered into and none of the work outlined in the proposal was undertaken. They insisted that the proposed work was “hardly controversial”.
CTF Partners confirmed it provided al-Hail with “a minimal amount of media advice” during July’s state visit to London by His Highness the Amir of Qatar. During this visit a PR company that had previously worked with al-Hail made a disastrously farcical attempt to pay hundreds of actors to protest outside Downing Street during the Amir’s visit to see Theresa May.
CTF said it had no role in organising the fake protests and ceased all involvement with al-Hail “upon hearing about such matters”.
Crosby did not respond to a request for comment on claims his company also provided PR support for the Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman during his state visit to the UK last year.
The pitch document was seen by the Guardian and the campaign group Spinwatch as part of an investigation into how the UK has become a major centre for global lobbying campaigns as part of the proxy war in the Middle East.
In the document Crosby lays out a proposal to coalesce global criticism of Qatar into a single narrative and “expose and undermine the actions of the current regime” in Doha, including linking the state’s activities to terrorism in the minds of the public.
“CTF Partners has decades of experience in running campaigns that change or reinforce voter opinions and behaviour,” Crosby said in the document. “That experience tells us that an integrated campaign, professionally run and deploying all the levers of influence available can be successful. We are confident that though challenging this is equally the case with putting pressure on Fifa to strip Qatar of its right to host the World Cup as for any other campaign that we have run.” To Page 2
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During the last year Crosby’s company has donated gifts worth tens of thousands of pounds to Tory MPs. In November 2017 cabinet ministers and dozens of Tory MPs, including the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, gathered for CTF’s annual Christmas party at the V&A museum.
Al-Hail, who has financed a series of lavish anti-Qatar events in London over the last 18 months featuring leading politicians and football players, has always insisted the events are funded with his personal wealth. He did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
In the pitch document, Crosby told al-Hail that, if engaged, CTF Partners would require £300,000 a month plus VAT to work to undermine the credibility of Qatar’s government. This was on top of more than £100,000 to conduct research that would associate Doha with terrorism in the minds of the public. In addition, CTF Partners would put direct pressure on FIFA to reverse the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar by establishing campaign bases in London, Washington DC, Milan, Sydney and Canberra.
“We would identify all potential ‘allies’ in the media, politics, industry, academia, and government and reach out to them guiding a deliberate attempt to inform and motivate them about the need to reconsider Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022,” the document said.
Crosby said his company could also run online campaigns to put Qatar under pressure, using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to turn members of the public into campaigning tools.
“The focus for our dedicated team would be to create activity and interaction, encouraging users to join an online community, sign up, share with their family and friends, like an activity or watch and participate in an event. These supporters can then be mobilised to communicate directly with key decision-makers at FIFA."
Crosby’s proposal also offered to monitor and provide “metrics” to al-Hail on the activities of members of the public who were willing to take online action against Qatar, in addition to running a global media campaign.
“No false, misleading or unfair claim about Qatar or its World Cup should be allowed to be unchallenged,” said Crosby. “The campaign should operate on the basis of rapid rebuttal – always ensuring a vacuum is not left to be filled by Qatar or any of the country’s supporters. As with all other aspects of the campaign this would be the responsibility of a dedicated team.”
Crosby is not the first overseas individual to discuss anti-Qatar campaigns with al-Hail. One of al-Hail’s previous attempts at organising an anti-Qatar event in London saw him employ the services of Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills, the chairman of the British Monarchist Society, who adopts an English accent for his work as a royal TV pundit but was later exposed as an Italian-American who grew up in upstate New York.