Difference between revisions of "James Frayne"

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*Frayne also worked at [[Westbourne Communications]], started by another ex-Portland lobbyist.  
*Frayne also worked at [[Westbourne Communications]], started by another ex-Portland lobbyist.  
==Learning from America==
Frayne’s thinking has been influenced by US politics, and he has sought to encourage more US-style political campaigning into the UK. His previous blog, CampaignWarRoom, for example, offered daily insight on campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. He also gained experience helping out on Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign in 2012.

Revision as of 07:34, 31 August 2015

Twenty-pound-notes.jpg This article is part of the Lobbying Portal, a sunlight project from Spinwatch.
Revolving Door.jpg This article is part of the Revolving Door project of Spinwatch.

James Frayne is a lobbyist who has worked in government (for the then education secretary Michael Gove at the UK Department for Education); in think tanks; and in commercial lobbying agencies.

Frayne is reputed to be one of the best Tory-leaning media strategists in politics today. He has been described as a strategic thinker of immense insight. He does, however, prefer to keep a low profile. He has been dubbed ‘London’s best kept secret’.[1][2]

As of November 2014, Frayne is director of policy and strategy at Policy Exchange, one of the UK's most high-profile neoconservative think tanks. [3]

He is married to Rachel Wolf who, like Frayne, was an adviser to Michael Gove, and was the UK's free school champion.

'Expert' in public persuasion

In 2013, Frayne wrote an article on ‘The power of emotion in political campaigns’ for the influential website ConservativeHome.

‘People make political decisions based primarily on emotion rather than reason,’ he wrote. Giving advice to his Conservative allies, Frayne argued there was a need for election campaigns to develop greater expertise in the science of persuasion and influence. Campaigns needed to take in neuroscience and psychology. Party strategists, Frayne argued, should ‘investigate the process by which people make political decisions, and how they can intervene in that process to make them vote for a particular party’.

Frayne’s advice to Britain’s politicians is to take a much more self-consciously emotional approach to winning popular support. To achieve this, Frayne was moved to predict that they will soon start working with experts on how the mind works. ‘Messages that touch people on an emotional level,’ wrote Frayne, ‘cause a physical reaction in the brain that makes such messages more likely to be stored in our long-term memory, and therefore more likely to affect our political outlook.’

Frayne has advised business to follow suit. In a 2013 book, he urges companies to learn from political-campaign techniques and apply them to corporate PR to ‘become experts in public persuasion’. Business needs to start leading the public conversation again, he says. They should ditch the ‘backroom lobbyists’ and replace them with campaigners who will generate public conversations on the issues that matter to business. This ‘permanent’, emotionally driven PR assault on the public is the way to secure influence today, he says.

Government roles

In early 2011, education secretary Michael Gove hired Frayne from Portland PR, as his director of communications in an effort to ‘beef up’ his team with some campaigning experience.

Overly-influential education spad

In 2013 an unnamed member of the Department for Education complained about how Frayne and another of Gove's special advisers (spads) Dominic Cummings had run the department during their tenure. The Independent newspaper reported that a private settlement of £25,000 was reached to prevent alleged allegations of bullying and intimidation reaching a tribunal. [4]

Think tank roles

James began his career working for Business for Sterling, the successful campaign against British membership of the European single currency, and he managed the No campaign against the proposed North East Regional Assembly in the 2004 referendum, which won an upset landslide against the government-backed Yes Campaign.

He also worked for the think tank Reform, where he was behind the launch of the ‘Doctors for Reform’ campaign.

Frayne was also campaign director of the TaxPayers Alliance.


According to his former biography on the website of lobbyists Westbourne Communications, Frayne:

'pioneered the use of grassroots "people power" campaigns for business and campaign groups'.[5]He also claims to have successfully lobbied against government plans to increase taxes and regulation on businesses by ‘positioning ordinary people against elites’.

Frayne’s assertion that he pioneered the use of grassroots mobilisation on behalf of business is hard to prove. But he has clearly brought to the UK some of the lessons from America, where astroturfing is commonplace.

  • While at the free market think tank Reform, he managed the launch of the campaign group, Doctors for Reform. This claimed to represent a membership of 1000 ordinary medical practitioners in favour of a reformed health service, but did not disclose its funding. Frayne argued that the remit for Doctors for Reform was to mobilise hundreds of senior NHS doctors in favour of a reformed health service. Changes advocated by the group included introducing ‘an insurance element’ into the NHS in addition to state funding, and a system of top-up payments. Both proposals undermine the foundation of the NHS as a universal, free at the point of use healthcare system. Both would benefit the private health insurance industry. Prudential, the insurance giant behind PruHealth, was Reform’s most generous sponsor in 2012, investing £67,500 in the think tank.
  • The Taxpayers Alliance, where Frayne was campaign director, also presents itself as a 'grassroots' organisation, yet refuses to disclose its funders. It also networks with US groups accused of engaging in astroturf campaigns, like Americans for Prosperity, funded by the oil billionaire David Koch. The TPA is explicit in its aim of ‘challenging the consensus’ to create a low-tax Britain. ‘That will not happen overnight,’ warned Frayne in 2006. ‘It will take years . . . decades perhaps.'[6]
  • Frayne has also worked for commercial lobbying firm Westbourne Communications, which is upfront about its astroturfing: ‘We know how to mobilise public voices behind our clients to change opinion,’ Westbourne claims. The firm has since run various such campaigns, including the controversial astroturf Campaign for High Speed Rail.

Commercial lobbying roles

Frayne has worked for a number of commercial lobbying firms in London:

  • He worked for big-name agency Portland PR as head of its campaigns unit in the three years running up to the 2010 general election, although it is not known what activity he was involved in. Frayne revealed in 2009 that some of Portland's clients’ reputations were taking a ‘near-daily hammering’ in the press. His reaction was not to reflect on why, but to fight back. ‘There are still too [many] occasions where third party organisations feel completely free to go after businesses and get coverage for themselves because they know they can’t get hurt,’ he said. Lobbyists needed to be more aggressive and counter-attack'.

Learning from America

Frayne’s thinking has been influenced by US politics, and he has sought to encourage more US-style political campaigning into the UK. His previous blog, CampaignWarRoom, for example, offered daily insight on campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. He also gained experience helping out on Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign in 2012.


  • Frayne's old blog, 'Campaign war room', Blog of the Year in 2010. [7]

He has also written for The Spectator, Daily Telegraph, City A.M., the BBC News website, The Business magazine, PR Week, CorpComms magazine, and various blogs, including Conservative Home.



  1. Patrick Wintour, co.uk/politics/blog/2011/feb/25/michael-gove-james-frayne-education Michael Gove opts for a better Frayne of mind in retelling message, Guardian, 25 February 2011
  2. David Singleton brandrepublic.com/news/1056837 Department for Education hires James Frayne as comms chief, Brand Republic, 24 February 2011
  3. Rod Muir PX post for Gove’s comms man PublicAffairs News, 11 November 2014, accessed 5 December 2014
  4. ‘Dump f***ing everyone’: the inside story of how Michael Gove’s vicious attack dogs are terrorising the DfE [1], accessed Sept 2014
  5. Anna Minton, Scaring the living daylights, published by Spinwatch, March 2013
  6. [Robert Watts, who-saw-off-Prescott.html Low-tax campaigner who saw off Prescott. “If you don’t trust politicians, why trust them with your money?” James Frayne talks morals to Robert Watts, Sunday Telegraph, 15 January 2006
  7. James Frayne author profile, Harriman House, accessed 17 February 2014