‘He wants to shape wider culture’: Why Paul Marshall is turning from GB News to the Telegraph

We all know it’s filthy lucre that makes the world go round, but what’s less clear is why the very rich so often want to further dirty their hands in the news business? If anyone knows the answer it could be Sir Paul Marshall. The hedge fund founder was an early investor in GB News and is being touted in Conservative circles as a media mogul-in-waiting, with a bid in the works for a venerable British newspaper group.

Marshall, who is worth £680m according to the Sunday Times Rich List, already has a public record for transformational zeal in the education system that is equalled only by his campaigning enthusiasm for Britain’s future outside Europe. One of his fans is Baroness Morgan, a former chair of Ofsted and one-time political secretary to Tony Blair. As adviser to Marshall’s academy schools chain, Ark, she has praised his “single-minded obsession” with changing the lives of poor children through education, adding that he “commits brain, time and money to making that happen”.

It is an unexpected testimonial from Sally Morgan for a Brexiter Tory party donor, but then there are plenty of complicating factors for those who may want to portray Marshall as a single-note, rightwing disruptor, with little understanding of journalism. For one thing, he worked for a while as a backroom adviser to the Liberal Democrats, even standing unsuccessfully for a parliamentary seat in 1987, and for another thing, his sister is Penny Marshall, the admired and experienced ITV news correspondent. He also chairs the independent thinktank CentreForum and his son, Winston, was a member of the voguish folk band Mumford & Sons.

London born, independently educated and an Oxford graduate, Marshall started out his journey in high finance with the giant BlackRock investment fund, and then, in 1997, went on to co-found Marshall Wace, the $62bn fund he still chairs, with his long-time business partner, Ian Wace. Not content with later setting up his international teaching charity, as well as a research institute at the London School of Economics, and then advising on Tory government policy in the Department for Education for three years, Marshall also funded the political website UnHerd in 2017 and is now poised for a push to buy the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.

A spokesperson for the backers of the potential bid, being put together by UnHerd’s media stable, explained this weekend that the consortium’s proposals are at an early stage but will aim to “revitalise” the two newspapers’ traditionally Tory brands. Along for the ride with Marshall is the American Republican and hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, founder of Citadel, who can throw a few hundred million in the pot to help reach the Telegraph’s expected £480m price tag.

Marshall, of course, is also making media noise due to his minority stake in the channel where Dan Wootton and Laurence Fox have thoroughly disgraced themselves by joking on air about not wanting to sleep with the journalist Ava Evans. Whether or not you are one of the 7,300 outraged viewers who complained, it was certainly a hypothetical issue, as Evans has since clarified. It was also an incident that is hard to justify as bona fide news coverage. Ofcom, the media regulator, has been urged to take swift action.

GB News was launched two years ago to challenge the alleged left-to-centrist bias of conventional British news media, and it quickly began blurring the boundaries set out by its broadcast licence. Perhaps the boldest infraction so far was Friday night’s[Friday’s] interview with the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who was interviewed by the deputy chair of her own party, Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield. Such a thing should only happen, according to Ofcom guidelines, in “exceptional” circumstances and if the audience are fully notified of the lack of balance.

The GB News control room in west London. A view from the back of people working on computers with a bank of TV screens along the far wall.
The GB News control room in west London. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Marshall’s stand-out virtues are generosity and loyalty, according to his business partner, Wace, and he is someone always happy to be the “dissenting voice” in a room. Others have called him “mild mannered” and principled.

Mildness and integrity are not qualities immediately associated with GB News output, but then Marshall has no control over editorial content. However, when a disappointed Andrew Neil stood down as chair in September 2021, Marshall, who had invested £10m at the outset, temporarily took over.

Perhaps he once hoped the channel would capitalise on taking a crowbar to current affairs. If so, this weekend must be an uncomfortable one. The channel is currently a loss-making embarrassment. Marshall is a committed Anglican, so how that sits with having funded a place for Fox to fulminate, is hard to guess, although it might suggest the investor is not so bothered about winning mere approval on earth.

Marshall’s sister, Penny, has described him as modest and discreet about his achievements and charitable work. She fondly observed that he does more in a day than most people manage in a week.

Tim Montgomerie, a former government adviser and UnHerd’s founding editor, said he “regards Marshall as a friend and a good man”. “He never interfered with editorial at UnHerd and is not a micromanager. But there needs to be a course correction at GB News now. It is being discussed at board level, and we will see that this weekend. Paul will not like the way it has gone.” Indeed, Montgomerie added, changes are already under way, with the additional suspension of presenter Calvin Robinson, who supported Wootton on social media.

Lee Anderson on GB News
Lee Anderson, co-chair of the Conservative party, interviewed the home secretary Suella Braverman on GB News, breaking Ofcom impartiality guidelines. Photograph: GB News

Montgomerie also testifies to Marshall’s other great passion, Manchester United, having “stood with him on the terraces at Old Trafford”. “He is as passionately anti the ownership of the Glazers as he is about the game, although I don’t think I have heard him swear,” he said.

So what is the Marshall plan? Well, if it isn’t yet universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of social influence, then it really should be. And true backroom clout only comes to big league philanthropists or to media proprietors. Marshall is already heavily into philanthropy and a role as a leading publisher may await. Political pundits suspect that he wants to provide the public platform for the next Conservative leadership campaign. But, according to Montgomerie, he has no direct political ambitions.

“He could have gone into the Lords, but he doesn’t want that,” he said. “Paul really believes in freedom of speech and liberty and he fears the British economy is going the wrong way. He wants to shape the wider culture, so he is investing because of a political agenda and not because he wants any favours in return.”

 Boris is a good guy
The Daily Telegraph reaches Tory supporters who may not watch GB News. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *