Paul Marshall, the financier turned media baron bankrolling GB News

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Hands resting lightly on the lectern, Sir Paul Marshall laid in to the three enemies of the free market, what he called the “mutant siblings” of capitalism: the “cronies” colluding at Davos, monopolies and “woke” corporations.

The British multi-millionaire, who built his fortune as co-founder of London-based hedge fund Marshall Wace, was speaking in the capital last October at the inaugural conference for the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship. Featuring controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, the conference is the latest in a series of media ventures bankrolled by Marshall, who has emerged as an enthusiastic combatant in the UK’s own version of America’s culture wars.

Over the past four decades, the 64-year-old evangelical Christian and financier has positioned himself as a philanthropist and political donor and as an education reformer, pulling strings behind the scenes at Westminster. Now he’s trying to influence the national conversation through the media. 

This week, Marshall was forced to inject further funds into his growing media empire. Accounts showed that All Perspectives — the business he co-owns — had provided a further £41mn in funding to cover the lossmaking activities at GB News, an upstart British broadcaster in the vein of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.

Marshall’s supporters say his Arc address set out his position as defender of the free market, and point to his 38 per cent stake in GB News and ownership of digital media group UnHerd as commitments to free speech. “He is a self-described classical liberal,” said one close ally. “He is interested in opposing arguments and wants diverse and robust debate.”

But some media executives fear that the rest of the Arc conference, whose sessions included discussion of fringe, right-leaning ideology, was a more telling demonstration of where his politics lie. GB News has pushed the boundaries of the UK’s broadcasting code, paying serving MPs to present current affairs shows and featuring controversial commentators. These have already prompted rebukes over the channel’s lack of impartiality and airing of misogynistic views. Media watchdog Ofcom has about a dozen open investigations looking at whether GB News has breached its rules.

This turn towards rightwing politics is surprising given Marshall’s early links to the Liberal Democrats. Born in London in 1959, he studied at Oxford and stood for office on an SDP-Liberal Alliance ticket in Fulham in 1987. For a time he was a Lib Dems’ major donor, even helping to edit The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism. But he grew disillusioned with the party, notably over its stance on Europe. In 2015, at the end of the party’s coalition with the Conservatives, he left the Lib Dems and donated £100,000 to the Leave campaign.

It was after his failed parliamentary bid that he turned to finance, working for SG Warburg & Co’s fund management arm Mercury Asset Management. Together with fellow Warburg alumnus Ian Wace, he founded Marshall Wace in 1997 with $50mn in assets — now one of the world’s leading hedge funds, with $62.5bn under management. 

While his mother and sister are both journalists, Marshall’s own first foray in to the media industry came in 2017 with the purchase of UnHerd, an online comment site that set out to challenge the mainstream media with a wider range of views. Soon after, he became a big investor in GB News alongside the Legatum Group, a Christian faith-driven investor based in Dubai. He is now interested in taking control of Telegraph newspapers and The Spectator magazine, which if successful would make him the most powerful right-leaning UK media baron since Murdoch. His rival, Abu Dhabi-backed group RedBird IMI, short-circuited the auction process but is now facing a regulatory probe into its acquisition. Marshall remains interested if the RedBird deal falls through.

Industry analyst Claire Enders regards Marshall’s growing media interests as being more about influence than financial gain — they reflect “his brand of conservatism and promote those who adhere to it as influential in party politics”. His embrace of free speech is partly rooted in his family’s own experiences: his son Winston quit the folk rock band Mumford & Sons following controversy over his support for the leftist antifa protest movement.

But Marshall’s own politics are being increasingly called into question, especially since advocacy group Hope not Hate revealed that he has liked and retweeted content from far-right and conspiracy accounts. This includes posts on X suggesting that “native” Europeans were “losing patience with the fake refugee invaders”.

A spokesman for Marshall said that the selection of posts, which have now been deleted, “does not represent his views”. But his influence matters: as the UK approaches a general election, GB News will help shape the national discourse. “Paul Marshall has become an increasingly prominent figure in the radical right ecosystem,” says Joe Mulhall of Hope Not Hate.

Marshall’s media empire will give him an influential position in the upcoming political debates — fulfilling a life-long ambition to be a Westminster mover and shaker — but allies deny he favours any individual party. “He is not in any way aligned with any brand of conservatism currently being peddled,” said one. “His position has stayed consistent [as a liberal]. It is the rest of the world that has travelled to the left.”

daniel.thomas@ft.com; harriet.agnew@ft.com

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