David Cameron was accused on Friday of giving evasive answers about the Tories’ chief election strategist as the Labour party highlighted Lynton Crosby’s role in promoting shale gas companies in his native Australia.
As a cross-party committee of MPs accused the government of “utterly unacceptable” behaviour over the preparation of a new bill on lobbyists, Labour warned of a “lobbying scandal” in Downing Street after George Osborne unveiled tax breaks for the fracking industry championed by Crosby.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, pointed out that the lobbyist’s firm Crosby Textor represents the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association. One of its members, Dart Energy, has a UK subsidiary, Dart Europe Limited, which has an interest in the Bowland Shale site in Lancashire and Yorkshire, which contains 1,300tn cubic feet of gas.
The chancellor announced on Friday that the government would set a 30% tax rate for onshore shale gas production, compared with the top rate of 62% for North Sea oil operations. Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said it was a “disgrace” to offer tax breaks to “polluting energy firms that threaten our communities and environment”.
The fracking industry association in Australia, which has been advised by Crosby’s firm, has been highly critical of environmentalists. Stedman Ellis, the chief operating officer for the Western Region of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, told the Australian newspaper last month: “The opportunity provided by shale gas is too important to be jeopardised by political scare campaigns run by activist groups.”
Trickett said that Crosby’s role in advising the fracking industry raised further questions about the man who will run the Tories’ 2015 general election campaign. Cameron is already facing pressure after refusing to say on at least 12 occasions, according to Trickett, whether he discussed government plans to abandon plain cigarette packaging with Crosby, whose firm has advised the tobacco giant Philip Morris.
Trickett said: “David Cameron’s failure to come clean over his relationship with Lynton Crosby has created a situation where his decisions are open to question. Whether it’s tobacco, alcohol, lobbying and now fracking, we need to know what role lobbying has played in deciding what our prime minister does.