Sir Paul appears, certainly, to be in the process of becoming a significant figure in the Conservative media landscape. Sky News reported earlier this week that he has enlisted merchant bankers to advise him on a bid for The Daily Telegraph, and perhaps for The Spectator (for which his son, Winston Marshall, former banjoist and lead guitarist for Mumford & Sons, does a podcast). He is also involved in the forthcoming London conference of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship.
And in 2017 Marshall founded Unherd, whose first editor was Tim Montgomerie, who himself in 2005 founded ConHome.
Sir Paul is one of the two investors in GB News, the other being Legatum. He stuck with the channel through its early troubles, when it was mocked for its low production standards and Andrew Neil departed, and on its website he describes himself as “a passionate believer in restoring prosperity and voice to Britain’s regions”.
Four Conservative MPs are presenters on GB News – Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lee Anderson, Esther McVey and Philip Davies – and it has recently hired Chris Hope, from The Daily Telegraph, as its Political Editor, who said as he started:
“For me, the most exciting thing about joining GB News is the opportunity to bring politics to audiences who feel they’ve been poorly served by media in the past.
“The next general election will be decided in the Red Wall, in the exact areas of the north where GB News has won some of the strongest audiences in news broadcasting. It’s a vital constituency offering a compelling motive to cover politics differently.”
For its critics, GB News is Fox News in embryo, an interloper bringing American levels of bias to British broadcasting and driving a coach and horses through media regulation. The Economist recently warned in its Bagehot column that
“GB News is the conservative right speaking unto itself. Its owners may conclude that is a sustainable basis for a channel. For a party of government, it is a trap.”
Respectable people, and respectable parties, should steer clear of GB News. Much the same line was taken in 1955 when ITV was launched.
Those actually working for GB News see themselves as standing up for overlooked voters in the North, and indeed South, whose concerns are ignored by the BBC.
They contend that the Labour Party, which used to give GB News a wide berth, is now keen to come on the channel, recognising that it reaches audiences other channels don’t.
Nigel Farage, the most celebrated presenter on GB News, achieved his greatest successes as UKIP leader by connecting with and speaking up for neglected voters in unfashionable places.
So too the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum. These voters exist, and a key question at the next general election will be whether those of them who supported the Conservatives in 2019, and indeed as recently as the Hartlepool by-election in May 2021, can be persuaded to do so again.
What might Sir Paul’s role in all this be? He was born in 1959, went into the City and has made a colossal fortune from Marshall Wace, the hedge fund which he founded (with Ian Wace) in 1997, where he remains Chairman and Chief Investment Officer, and which now manages over $60 billion of assets.
The word “hedgie” will conjure to some on the Left an image of a rapacious, unscrupulous, high-living buccaneer who has no qualms about polluting the pure waters of British broadcasting in pursuit of ever greater profit.
Sir Paul is not like that. His manner is sincere, thoughtful and unshowy: he betrays no thirst for fame, glamour or high society, has a mere 4,836 followers on Twitter (where at the time of writing my application to become a follower of @pmcmarshall is still pending), and preserves a decent Anglican reticence about his faith.
He is, it turns out, a devout evangelical Christian who with his wife, Sabina, has worshipped at Holy Trinity Brompton since 1997, and is good friends with Graham Tomlin, until recently Bishop of Kensington. “Without being pious or censorious he lives a Christian life,” a friend remarks.
Conservatives are far more likely to know that Marshall used to be a Liberal Democrat. He worked in 1985 as a researcher for Charles Kennedy, stood in the 1987 general election as SDP candidate in Fulham (coming third), and in 2004 co-edited, with his friend David Laws, The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism, a free-market tract with contributions from three future leaders of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Ed Davey.
From 2005 Sir Paul funded the Lib Dems’ CentreForum think tank (which had an earlier incarnation as the Centre for Reform and in 2016 became the Education Policy Institute). Sir Paul, one sees, likes founding new enterprises, and generally remains faithful to them for a considerable time.
But his faith in the Lib Dems at length expired. Sir Paul is still close to Laws, but found Clegg as leader insufficiently Orange Bookish.
And Brexit came, in the words of one close observer, as “a radicalising moment”. The Lib Dems were vociferous Remainers, filled with self-righteous scorn for anyone who disagreed with them, including any primitive, uneducated Northerners who might have voted for Brexit.
Sir Paul, whose wife is French and whose father worked for Unilever in the Philippines and South Africa, was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, St John’s College Oxford, where he read History and Modern Languages, and INSEAD, at Fontainebleau, where he took an MBA.
He voted for Brexit, organised a conference called Prosperity UK to help work out how to use the opportunities it presented, and six years later wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph lamenting what could have been achieved “if only we had possessed a capable governing class”.
“Most people in Britain do not want to become part of a very large country called Europe. They want to be part of a country called Britain.”
Sir Paul was in 2004 one of the founders of ARK Schools, which has founded about 40 academies, with the aim of closing the attainment gap.
He has also set up, with Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, the Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship at the LSE, and in 2016 he was knighted for services to education and philanthropy.
Through his educational work Sir Paul got to know Michael Gove, and in 2016 he backed his campaign for the Tory leadership. Gove this week told ConHome:
“Paul Marshall is one of the most generous-hearted, kind and thoughtful people I know. He has devoted time and care to helping some of the country’s most disadvantaged children. He is a model philanthropist.”
But striking though his philanthropy and his friendship with Gove are, it is in an article for Unherd, published on 30th December 2021 (a pleasantly unfashionable time of year, when many people are taking a break from the media) that Sir Paul offers the clearest account of his own politics.
He contends that liberalism in England “has lost its moorings” by cutting itself off from its Christian (and more specifically Protestant) origins:
“In all the great struggles of the 17th century, the calls for freedom were inseparable from the deep Christian faith of the protagonists, whether we are talking about the Parliamentarians, the Levellers or Oliver Cromwell himself.
“John Milton, driven and defined by his faith, wrote what is probably the foundational text in defence of free speech Areopagitica at the peak of the Civil War. It contained an impassioned argument against the introduction of the new Licensing Order (1643), which required government approval for any published work.
“All these calls were anchored in a shared understanding of meaning, knowledge and virtue. Meaning came from God, knowledge from the Bible and virtue from following the teachings of the Old and New Testaments…
“Traditional British liberalism rests on the Judaeo-Christian understanding that we are all, in moral terms, fallen creatures. The writings and speeches of the great heroes of liberty in the 16th and 17th centuries came with a deep sense of humility, of mankind’s brokenness and of the Fall.
“Somewhere amid the arrogance of the Enlightenment, we lost this sense of fallenness…”
Liberals (to this day they call themselves liberals) instead developed a pernicious belief that they were progressing towards perfect knowledge, and that anyone who failed to accept their idea of progress should be cast into outer darkness:
“What we are seeing today being enacted in the name of liberalism is not liberal at all. Instead, let’s call it by the name which its proponents are prepared to use — progressivism. This is the creed which unites Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, most of the US Democratic Party, most of the British Labour Party and the New York Times.
“These are not traditional Liberals in any understanding of the term. They are Progressives. They believe humankind is on a permanent upward path of progress. They believe in the rule of experts and in the authority of ‘the science’.”
Sir Paul is not, by temperament, a conservative: he is a liberal who feels betrayed by pseudo-liberals of the New York Times type who no longer accept the legitimacy of any opinions except their own, and have come to regard themselves as infallible, even though many of their views were only arrived at in the last few years.
The claim to infallibility is particularly galling, and particularly illiberal. During the 2016 referendum campaign, and for several years after it, Remainers were bitterly intolerant of any opinions but their own.
Which brings us back to GB News. Sir Paul supports it in the name of freedom of speech. As one of his friends says: