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Exclusive: Johnson’s former strategist now vying to get Zahawi into No.10

The new chancellor has been employing Mark Fullbrook for three years – and intends to secure the top job

James Cusick
James Cusick
7 July 2022, 3.49pm

Nadhim Zahawi outside 10 Downing Street

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Han Yan / Xinhua / Alamy Stock Photo

The political ‘playbook’ deployed by the controversial strategy firm Crosby Textor Fullbrook Partners (CTF) to get Boris Johnson into 10 Downing Street three years ago is being used again to turn the newly appointed chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, into the UK’s next prime minister.

Zahawi, who has been chancellor of the exchequer for less than two days, is being advised by Mark Fullbrook, the political strategist who ran Johnson’s successful leadership bid in 2019, openDemocracy can reveal. Once an associate of Australian guru Lynton Crosby at CTF, Fullbrook left earlier this year to set up his own firm, Fullbrook Strategies, with Crosby himself on the advisory board.

According to Whitehall sources close to Zahawi, it was Fullbrook who suggested the private, no-holds-barred confrontation with Johnson, where he allegedly told the PM that he wanted the job of chancellor or else he would exit the government. The ploy left Johnson with little choice than to appoint Zahawi.

Until that meeting, Johnson is thought to have marked the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, as the replacement for Rishi Sunak.

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After he was appointed chancellor, it was barely 24 hours before Zahawi told Johnson he should resign – while he stayed on in his new job.

One Tory MP, who regrets that the party did not do more to fight Johnson and his allies, said: “Boris caved in to Zahawi, knowing Fullbrook would do all he could for his new client. This is the game now – for those who can afford the CTF playbook.”

A rapid rise

Zahawi, the second-richest person in the recent cabinet behind only Sunak himself, hired Fullbrook three years ago when he was still at CTF. According to a former business associate of Zahawi, the Iraqi-born MP for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010 was “disappointed” at the junior minister status he initially held in Johnson’s first administration.

Since he hired Fullbrook, Zahawi has gone from junior minister at the business and industry department, to minister responsible for the COVID-19 vaccine programme, education secretary, and now chancellor – all inside three years.

With Johnson’s resignation today and barely two weeks until the parliamentary summer recess, Fullbrook’s immediate job is to turn Zahawi into one of the final two names that will be sent to Conservative Party members in the final lap of the contest for the keys to No 10.

Prized client

Although CTF and Fullbrook do not discuss their clients or the fees they charge, they are among the top elite strategy firms in London. Zahawi has been paying high-end fees for Fullbrook’s counsel for some years now, and is thought to listen and respect the strategy laid out for him. Zahawi is now one of the most-prized clients at Fullbrook’s new firm.

One industry source who competes with CTF told openDemocracy: “Neither Mark [Fullbrook] nor Lynton [Crosby] need to bat a home-run into 10 Downing Street. They’ve done it before. But Zahawi, for Mark, is important. It shows that while things may look different on the surface, underneath it’s business-as-usual.”

Crosby masterminded Johnson’s two London mayoral victories. He also helmed David Cameron’s general election win in 2015. Fullbrook was the deputy campaign director for Johnson’s second mayoral win in 2012.

Fullbrook remains close to Crosby, whose reputation as a master of the ‘dark art of politics’ is widely acknowledged by lobbyists. Fullbrook is also a founding shareholder of CTF.

Fullbrook Strategies has been approached for comment.

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