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Tory chair gave ‘anti-woke’ speech at think-tank funded by tobacco and oil companies

The Heritage Foundation is a US think-tank which lobbies against action on climate and smoking

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 15 February 2022 10:15 GMT
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Oliver Dowden have his speech to the Heritage Foundation
Oliver Dowden have his speech to the Heritage Foundation (Getty Images)

The chair of the Conservative party provided a speech at a think-tank that is funded by tobacco companies and the fossil fuel industry, it has emerged.

Oliver Dowden used the speech to complain that "a social media mob can cancel you" and blasted a "painful woke psychodrama" that he claimed was afflicting the UK.

He made the comments in a speech at the Heritage Foundation – a notorious US think-tank that has spent years denying the scientific consensus on climate change and lobbying against action on smoking.

Coincidentally, the organisation has also repeatedly accepted millions of dollars in funding from the two controversial industries.

Mr Dowden was accused of “legitimising” the think-tank and was told by opposition parties that he “should be more careful of the company he keeps”.

The Heritage foundation accepted donations from cigarette maker Altria, owner of Philip Morris, in at least 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016, according to an investigation by the Guardian newspaper in 2019.

It has repeatedly lobbied against raising taxes on cigarettes in the US, including in 2007 opposing a tax rise on tobacco to fund children's healthcare.

The organisation has also lobbied to stop action against the climate emergency, and is described as a "climate denial front" by the organisation Greenpeace.

Between 1997 and 2017 the organisation accepted $6.1 million (£4.5 million) from Koch foundations, drawn from the oil fortune in the Koch family. The website ExxonSecrets also says the think-tank has received at least $780,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998.

It has lobbied vigorously in favour of new oil pipelines and issued studies claiming that climate change will not damage the US economy.

In 2010 the organisation arguably helped delay climate action in the US by misrepresenting the Royal Society's view of climate change, which is claimed had “significantly softened" when this was not the case.

And it senior staff have argued that “global warming is clearly not a crisis and should not be addressed as one". It also maintains a database of "experts" that includes climate deniers.

The Heritage Foundation says that “total corporate support of Heritage is less than five percent of total operating contributions". However much financial support in the US is channeled through "foundations", meaning this figure could be misleading.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesperson, told The Independent: “By speaking at this event Oliver Dowden is legitimising the Heritage Foundation and seemingly backing their dangerous view that climate change is not real.

“As a senior Cabinet Member who is already facing questions over his close links to Tory donors, he should be more careful of the company he keeps.

“Climate change is real and is the biggest threat facing humanity, yet this Conservative Government is too entangled with oil and gas barons to deliver the decisive action we need.”

Mr Dowden has previously been criticised for being too close to Tory donors. Last year he endorsed a telecoms firm that gave £21,500 to Conservative MPs, giving a speech for the firm at the launch at one of his products. He was at the time culture secretary and responsible for regulating the industry.

He gave his latest speech attacking “cancel culture” during a visit to the US capital Washington DC, where he met with other right-wing groups.

His speech was at the Heritage foundation’s DC headquarters and was billed as being about a “threat to democracy”, with the headline: “defeating cancel culture by defending the values of the free world”.

In it he said that a west that was “confident in its values” should not be “obsessing over pronouns or indeed seeking to decolonise mathematics” –apparently mocking the concerns of trans rights campaigners.

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