n July 2017, British Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie announced a . UnHerd’s kitsch name and cow logo provoked ridicule and confusion. “Today I’m unveiling the icon that will top [the site] – a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behaves in unmissable ways as a result,” Montgomerie, UnHerd’s founding editor, announced. The aim of UnHerd was more serious than its misconceptions about cows suggested: to rejuvenate capitalism and conservatism through free thinking, and make a positive case for Brexit. Among its early essays were , by Ruth Davidson, then leader of the Conservative party in Scotland, and , by Liam Halligan, then a columnist at the Sunday Telegraph, now economics and business editor at GB News. Montgomerie had worked as a speechwriter to two Conservative leaders and launched the influential website . But UnHerd struggled to be taken seriously. Online, sceptics christened it “the unmissable cow website” and “UnRead”. Today, however, UnHerd is no longer a punchline. The name remains, but the cow has disappeared, and any partisan affiliation is denied. The site has amassed a diverse stable of writers, editors and readers, drifting away from explicit concern for the Conservative party and the future of capitalism, and towards a focus on culture war topics: lockdowns, wokeness, cancel culture and the trans rights movement, as well as more general journalistic fare. Its readership now , and more than half of its audience are in the US and Canada. Spurred by this success, the man behind its rise put his money into GB News, and now seems to have set his eyes on an even bigger prize: the Telegraph titles and the Spectator. As other online publications such as and flail, UnHerd’s growth is striking. In November 2022, UnHerd also opened a private members’ club near Westminster with a restaurant downstairs, the Old Queen Street Cafe. UnHerd Club – pitched as “a new home for freethinkers” – hosts weekly talks and debates featuring a similar range of voices as the site and catering to a similar diet of political topics, with occasional cameos from celebrities. These events are broadcast on , along with other interviews, usually fronted by CEO and editor-in-chief Freddie Sayers. The YouTube channel has nearly 370,000 subscribers – about four times the figure for the New Statesman, and 50,000 more than that of the Spectator, the two legacy options for people looking for political commentary. To UnHerd’s supporters, the site’s success simply speaks to the quality of its writing and editing, the curation of idiosyncratic voices and a growing appetite for “unheard” perspectives. “We are not aligned with any political party, and the writers and ideas we are interested in come from both left and right traditions,” UnHerd assures its visitors. “But we instinctively believe that the way forward will be found through a shift of emphasis: towards community not just individualism, towards responsibilities as well as rights, and towards meaning and virtue over shallow materialism.” Sayers reiterated at a recent talk in New York promoting the site’s expansion into the US that UnHerd doesn’t have “a political ideology – I prefer to think of it as a mood: sceptical, anti-establishment, heterodox.” “Heterodox” is one of UnHerd’s favourite words, and it strives valiantly to live up to its brief. Contributors range from rightwing ideologues like and Eric Kaufmann to leftwing thinkers like Helen Thompson and . Both , a Marxist literary critic, and , a controversial feminist philosopher revered by conservatives, are columnists. and have published pieces recently. Perhaps no other publication can boast such an eclectic range. But beneath UnHerd’s claims to nonpartisanship lie Conservative-friendly foundations and a range of rightwing interests, for which the site’s “heterodox” range of writers appear to offer convenient cover. In September 2018, Montgomerie stood down and current editor Sally Chatterton – formerly of the Daily Telegraph and CapX (funded by the influential Tory thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies) – took over. Sayers, who has been a regular contributor to rightwing publications over the past two decades, joined soon after. He makes an equally unlikely champion of UnHerd’s anti-establishment politics: aside from a regal jawline that once saw him , his education at St Paul’s and Oxford, his close working relationship with Tory pollster , and his illustrious social circle that at various points has included and all mark him out as an elite insider. UnHerd’s anti-establishment credentials are perhaps further undermined by the company it keeps. In February, had become a favourite hangout for certain Tory politicians, describing “a group of two dozen [Conservative] MPs, policy strategists and special advisers – including senior figures from No 10 – who are regularly meeting behind closed doors at the UnHerd Club in central London”. (Sayers tell me: “We have lots of different groups meeting, for both private and public events, and … would absolutely love for a Labour-inclined thinktank to have regular events with us: open invitation.”) Perhaps the most intriguing person involved with UnHerd is its founder and publisher, . Marshall is the co-founder and chairman of Marshall Wace Asset Management, one of Europe’s biggest hedge fund groups. His firm often achieves a flash of notoriety when there is an – for and profiting from the turbulence. (A spokesperson for Marshall Wace says that “around 70% of its assets under management are made of long-only funds and, of its hedge funds, any short positions are usually more than offset by long positions”.) A formerly influential donor to the Liberal Democrats, . Since then, he has , and become one of the , the new television station that seeks to emulate Fox News and lets Conservative MPs on lucrative salaries. (Among the politicians to sit alongside Nigel Farage as an anchor are Tories Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey, Philip Davies and even . It ran at a .) Marshall is now to his media portfolio – aided by the US hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, one of the Republicans’ biggest and richest donors. UnHerd and GB News are far from the only self-styled free-speech champions to find their rebellious ambitions endowed by the rich and powerful. The battle against what author called, at UnHerd’s inaugural event in New York, “the woke mind virus … a genuinely dangerous disease, unlike Covid”, attracts a level of investment much of the left could only dream of. , , , and are among the cluster of rightwing and libertarian publications to have arisen or expanded in recent years, united by their dissident affectations and the wealth and political connections of their financial backers. UnHerd’s stomach for diverse viewpoints on certain issues may be unique, but this set of media outlets – don’t call them a herd – move within the same pastures, grazing on culture war fodder and pushing political discourse in the same direction. They claim ordinary people and free speech are under threat from the shady influence of elites, but focus their ire almost entirely on progressives – with comparatively little to say about either the burgeoning profits of the ultra-wealthy or how their financial interests shape and subvert democracy. These outlets offer a glimpse into Conservatism’s future: a ruling-class creed desperately trying to reinvent itself as an insurrectionary crusade, relinquishing any responsibility for the world they have played no small part in shaping. elatively little has been written about Marshall, UnHerd’s founder, and most people have never heard of him. Two key personality traits can be deduced from his limited media presence: his Christian faith, which he shares with of the he affiliates with politically, and that often lends his projects a missionary zeal; and his desire to keep a low profile. In a rare , which Marshall gave to promote his philanthropic work in education, he was asked why he seemed to prefer “flying below the radar”. He responded with an anecdote: “Ronald Reagan had a sign on his desk that said there is no limit to what you can achieve, providing you don’t seek the credit.” (Initially, Marshall agreed to speak with me for this piece, but an hour before our scheduled meeting he cancelled, with his secretary explaining that something “urgent” had come up and the meeting could not be rescheduled.) Before he became one of Britain’s wealthiest hedge fund managers, Marshall wanted to be a politician. After following a familiar route for Britain’s elite – , – he worked as a , just as it was merging with the SDP, later to become the Liberal Democrats. He left Westminster for the City in 1985, but two years later ran as the Liberal/SDP candidate in Fulham during the 1987 election. He refocused on his career in finance, co-founding Marshall Wace in 1997. “He was unusually intelligent, and unusually arrogant,” recalls a former colleague. Marshall remained close to the Lib Dems, and discovered that his wealth enabled a different kind of power within the party – a power he wielded with all the canniness of a City investor, wanting to maximise returns. In late 2003, Marshall met Lib Dem MP , who had recently entered parliament after a , and they exchanged worries about the leadership of the party. At the time, the Lib Dems were drifting to the left of Labour under , calling for a and increased investment in public services. Marshall and Laws wanted to bring the party back to the right – “to the philosophy of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and William Gladstone, all of whom advocated free trade and a smaller state”, as Marshall with Institutional Investor. The pair settled on a plan: co-editing a collection of essays by like-minded Lib Dem politicians, most of whom were new to parliament and shared Marshall and Laws’ backgrounds in the City. , it featured chapters by Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Ed Davey – all relatively unknown figures at the time, who would go on to lead the party. (Marshall contributed a foreword and a chapter on pension reform, to little fanfare. Laws’ chapter calling for the partial privatisation of the NHS was more controversial.) The essay collection’s strategic intent was signalled not only by its title – , an echo of an influential party document published in 1928, credited with taking the Liberal party to the left – but also by Marshall’s next move. He , with the hope of incubating the book’s ideas. Both The Orange Book and the newly renamed CentreForum (known as the ) stoked suspicion within the party – some saw it as a City-sponsored coup without grassroots support. But when Clegg won the leadership in 2007 and cited The Orange Book in his , their triumph over the party was complete, and Clegg appointed Marshall as an adviser (he was also for a peerage that never materialised). Marshall seems to have had bigger plans than to influence the policy programme of a small political party that had never held any power. After Labour’s third election victory in 2005, which was won on the second lowest ever voter turnout, Marshall made some election forecasts and concluded, as he , that “there was a very high probability [the Lib Dems] will be in overall control in the next parliament”. “I don’t think the media has fully picked this up,” Marshall said. “The Lib Dems will be the bride next time round.” It proved a savvy prediction: the 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament and, well prepared for marriage by The Orange Book, the Lib Dems went into government with the Conservatives. His ties to the Lib Dem leadership placed him close to the heart of the coalition government. As early as November 2010, that a few senior Conservative figures were meeting with a small number of Lib Dems to hash out the coalition’s policy programme for the second half of its parliamentary term – and Marshall was among them. A year later, Marshall was not only attending these talks but hosting them, providing wine, food and august surroundings at his Marshall Wace offices in Chelsea. The revolving cast of Conservatives in attendance included influential journalists Montgomerie and Daniel Finkelstein, and politicians Matt Hancock, Amber Rudd and Michael Gove, who features in Laws’ Coalition Diaries as a recurring guest of honour. (“Paul Marshall was yet again a wonderful host, [arranging] a reception on the terrace on the top floor of the building, with wonderful views of the Thames … Michael [Gove] was on his usual sparkling form,” Laws writes after one such evening.) Gove, a fellow Christian, already knew Marshall from his work in education, particularly through his involvement with Absolute Return for Kids, or Ark, a children’s charity that Marshall founded with other hedge fund managers in 2002. That same year, New Labour’s Education Act enabled private companies and religious organisations to take over struggling schools in certain contexts. Ark Schools . Gove was a great believer in the academy system and, as shadow education secretary in 2008, took part in the book launch for a new collection of essays published by CentreForum calling for its expansion. “There are features of private markets which need to be injected into the DNA of public education,” Marshall wrote in the chapter he contributed. As education secretary from 2010-14, Gove allocated significant funding to Ark, and in 2013 appointed Marshall as a . (Marshall also teamed up with a number of Tory donors to fund in the country in 2012.) Marshall received a knighthood in 2016 for his services to education and philanthropy, and Ark now controls one of the in Britain. “Sir Paul is proud of the fact that Ark Schools outperform the national average and their pupils have an excellent record of being admitted to some of the best universities in the country,” a spokesperson for Marshall said. Marshall and Gove’s relationship became even more consequential during the Brexit referendum in 2016. Marshall and, according to the Sunday Times’s , was among a small number of people Gove consulted before deciding to campaign to leave the EU. When Cameron then resigned in the wake of the result, Marshall gave a and wrote a , Gove’s former employer, heralding him as the leader to “reform capitalism”. Marshall’s public opposition to the EU initially centred on its attempts to regulate hedge funds after the 2007-09 financial crash, rules that might have contributed to Marshall Wace . “It’s popular to bash the banks,” . “But it’s actually more important to fight the European financial legislation which is being driven by the French and Germans at the moment. We must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” After the referendum, however, presumably angered by the defeatist mood that followed the result, Marshall’s political interventions took on a more cultural dimension. Seemingly frustrated with the “mainstream media” – despite the press being overwhelmingly pro-Brexit – Marshall decided to launch UnHerd with Montgomerie in 2017 to address the perceived bias. His media ambitions have only increased in the years since. He invested a combined £60m with (a Dubai-based investment firm) into GB News, which launched in June 2021. Amid the channel’s gaffe-strewn start, Marshall spent a brief spell as interim chairman, delivering a now-infamous rendition of Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech, imploring staff to defy their doubters: “It is not the critic who counts … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” The TV regulator Ofcom currently has . The most recent one relates to two of its key personalities, and , for being misogynistic about a female journalist live on air. With Marshall seemingly eager to avoid negative attention as he seeks to buy the Spectator and the Telegraph, the pair were swiftly suspended and Fox’s contract was soon terminated. But, despite the public outcry, including from Spectator journalists, Marshall can at least count on the enthusiastic support of several senior Conservative politicians. At the recent party conference, leading Tories Liz Truss and Priti Patel singled out GB News for praise. “Our country needed a disruptor … to take on the establishment, the Tory-hating, Brexit-bashing and free-speech deniers at the BBC and so-called mainstream media,” Patel said of GB News, to rapturous applause. “Thank you for everything you do!” Sign up to The only way to get a look behind the scenes of the Saturday magazine. Sign up to get the inside story from our top writers as well as all the must-read articles and columns, delivered to your inbox every weekend. after newsletter promotion Marshall has another interesting project with Legatum in the works: a new initiative called the (or Arc, seemingly a favourite acronym of Marshall’s) is being led by and features an international coalition of conservative politicians and corporate leaders, many of whom have . Its advisory board includes former Australian prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, and evangelical British Conservative MPs Danny Kruger and (both of whom also led the group of Conservative politicians and aides who were meeting regularly at UnHerd Club ). Arc will hold its first event on 1 November at the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London – Peterson headlines, with GB News pundit Douglas Murray also on the bill. Marshall’s son, Winston, who was in the year below Sayers at St Paul’s, is another member of Arc’s board. Best known as the former lead guitarist and banjo player with Mumford & Sons, Winston amid controversy after publicly praising a book by rightwing provocateur Andy Ngo. (A photo of the band alongside Peterson in 2018, after a meeting arranged by Winston, had already raised eyebrows.) Winston has since begun a new career as a journalist and culture warrior. He hosts a podcast with the Spectator called , frequently appears on GB News as a talking head (with no mention of his familial connection to the channel) and co-owns the UnHerd Foundation, a charity which is not yet active and was until July registered to the same address as his father’s hedge fund Marshall Wace. Marshall used to around their neighbourhood in west London – they’ve come a long way. Like his son, Marshall Sr appears increasingly animated by contentious political issues embraced by the right. Whereas he once published policy papers on pension reform and the education sector, now he denounces “the virus of critical theory” and, until he deleted his Twitter/X account recently, often engaged with posts critical of the trans rights movement: whether liking a tweet by Donald Trump Jr describing “trans activists” as “the most powerful group in the country”, or retweeting a story by Fox News about “a biological man assault[ing] a woman yet again. He was wearing a dress … We used to call this violence against women. Now it’s just ‘trans’.” In March, he also retweeted a post from an anonymous account that showed Labour leader Keir Starmer taking the knee in 2020, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, with the caption: “The reason I will NEVER vote @UKLabour summed up in one single picture. No audio required.” common refrain in UnHerd’s writing is that we are going through a moment of “political realignment”, a time when labels of left and right are no longer helpful, it is said, because the left has abandoned workers for wokeness and the right are falling out of love with global free markets. It is now up to a coalition of the willing – made up mostly of conservatives and capitalists, but also a few disillusioned leftists – to stand up for the working class, tradition and common sense against “the establishment”, who almost always happen to be left-leaning. Hence UnHerd’s interest in including nominally leftwing – or, even better, formerly leftwing – voices: it proves that the old tribes no longer apply. In UnHerd’s mythology, relayed to me by Sayers the first time we met at the Old Queen Street Cafe earlier this year, Boris Johnson’s election win in 2019 was pivotal to the site’s success: “Suddenly the old herds were breaking up, everyone was interested in red Tories and blue Labour – there was a new coalition.” That December, the site reached 1m monthly hits for the first time (it has at least tripled in the years since). Three months later came another pivotal moment for UnHerd: Britain entered its first national lockdown. Sayers launched UnHerd’s YouTube channel, initially called Lockdown TV, the very same day. “We had a lot of people on the show who were really certain that lockdowns were the right thing – and we had a lot of people who were not,” Sayers recalled. The channel became better known for the latter viewpoint. All UnHerd’s most popular pandemic-related videos – and indeed nearly all the channel’s most popular videos in general, even now – promote anti-lockdown and anti-vax perspectives. Inside Australia’s Covid Internment Camps (December 2021) has 1.9m views – making it UnHerd’s most watched YouTube video. In second place, Murray interviews Peterson. Like Brexit, the catalyst for UnHerd’s creation, lockdowns were a useful cause for pushers of Britain’s political realignment. Both issues splintered the nation’s elites. With Brexit, both the Conservative party and big business split, with some politicians and CEOs favouring stability, while others were made giddy by the prospect of freeing Britain – or at least its financial sector – from the EU’s regulatory control. This allowed elites campaigning for Brexit – including most rightwing newspapers, many hedge fund managers and – to position themselves as an insurgent, anti-establishment force, aligned with neglected working-class communities in the north who were frustrated with the status quo. Then, four years later, lockdowns allowed an overlapping cast of characters to once again reframe their financial interests as the cause of liberty and democracy, protecting people’s freedoms from power-hungry elites. Besides Brexit and lockdowns, the right has a third cause that it hopes can reconfigure the British political landscape: what they call “gender ideology”. While until recently most voters in the UK wouldn’t have held any opinion on how, when and with what resources someone should be able to change their gender – a reasonable position, insofar as it only relates to about – the right have worked tirelessly to make these questions major points of controversy. Conservatives have recruited many feminists to their cause – those who now believe the trans rights movement is a Trojan horse for misogyny. Just as Brexit forced much of the left to defend the status quo, and lockdowns led them to defend significant restrictions on civil liberties, the usefulness of the “trans issue” to conservatives is that they can portray themselves as plain-speaking people who can call a spade a spade, while mocking the left as out-of-touch eccentrics who can’t even say what a woman is. “We shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be,” in his conference speech. “They can’t. A man is a man and a woman is a woman – that’s just common sense.” UnHerd have made “the trans issue” a cause célèbre. Type “transgender” into UnHerd’s and you’ll be given 62 pages of results, or more than 700 articles. On issues such as the climate crisis, UnHerd invariably calls for calm and scepticism (illustrative headlines include: , , ). But when it comes to trans issues, the alarm seemingly cannot be raised too often or too loudly. A sample of headlines published in 2022: (June 2022), (September 2022), (December 2022). In a more recent conversation, Sayers tells me that if UnHerd’s coverage leans right, it is only “because our mission is to provide otherwise unheard voices”, and “views from the left liberal mainstream” are “so abundant everywhere else”. (Almost three-quarters of newspapers sold in the UK .) He also challenged the distinction between left and right. “The whole idea of trying to pigeonhole people as ‘rightwing’ and ‘leftwing’ is so much less relevant than it used to be – the coalitions are changing beyond recognition,” he says. “I am really proud of how open-minded and un-ideological UnHerd is.” A spokesperson for Marshall notes: “Sir Paul has supported political causes championed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives,” and adds: “UnHerd supports quality independent thinking and publishes pieces from some of the world’s most famous thinkers and writers from across the political spectrum.” This year, UnHerd announced a new polling series , which supposedly reveals “a country that is dividing along new and surprising faultlines”. Their first three topics were Brexit, gender and conspiracy, in that order. UnHerd may cite Britain’s “political realignment” as the reason for its success, but it could also be seen as an objective. The appeal of issues like Brexit, gender and conspiracy is that they elevate cultural divisions over economic ones, while the influence of millionaires and billionaires over our politics is relegated from the conversation. At UnHerd’s inaugural event in New York, which was intended to explore the urgent political challenges facing Britain and the US, almost the entire conversation was taken up by “the gender question”. Shriver complained that the left was “obsessed” with it, as she proceeded to take every question back to it. In an hour and a half of conversation, neither Shriver nor Sayers brought up economic inequality and poverty once. ayers maintains that UnHerd is unlike previous publications he has worked with. “I’ve got nothing against the Spectator, but we’re much more anti-establishment than that,” he tells me. “Just look who comes to our summer parties. You see people chatting who you never thought would be in the same room.” By way of example, he cites talking to Gove, and former Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore talking to of the Mail on Sunday. Photographs also record who was at the UnHerd Club’s launch party in November 2022. Among the guests were Marshall, Christopher Chandler (the billionaire founder of Legatum), Philippa Stroud (CEO of the Legatum Institute), Angelos Frangopoulos (CEO of GB News), Gove and Viscount Cranborne (heir to the Salisbury title and estate). They were joined by journalists from the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Spectator, the Atlantic, Spiked and GB News, and representatives of various rightwing thinktanks. The guest list pointed to a perceived dissonance at UnHerd’s heart: a self-styled intellectual vanguard enjoying the subversive thrill of the revolution with all the comforts and trappings of a ruling class soiree, while stoking cultural divisions in the interests of billionaires, with varying degrees of intent. UnHerd’s rebellious self-image is palpable – but, as with , its underdog status has more to do with the powers of imagination than the powers allied against it. Marshall is a case in point: a wealthy hedge fund manager who lives in west London advised the 2010-15 Conservative-led coalition – and yet positions himself against “the metropolitan elite” and “the establishment”. UnHerd is far from the only publication to follow this formula. In September, as he ceded primary control of his vast media empire to his son, felt stirred to warn about “the battle for the freedom of speech” and “elites [who] have open contempt for people who are not members of their rarefied class”. Murdoch and Marshall are now said to be . Staff are rumoured to prefer Murdoch – there are suggestions that Marshall was even barred from entering the Spectator’s summer party in July, a sign of growing mutual hostility – but one imagines that the UK’s elites are unlikely to be too concerned by either outcome. Judging by his social media activity and , Marshall believes the west is in crisis – but it is a cultural and moral reckoning that is needed, not an economic one. If Marshall appears unfazed by harshening inequalities at home and abroad, it is perhaps because he is thriving off them. Last year, Marshall Wace’s revenues . The hedge fund has sizeable short positions against UK retailers and . In a sense, Britain’s pain is Marshall’s gain – and business is booming. Back in 2006, Marshall told a Daily Telegraph journalist that he didn’t like being regarded as a shadowy political donor, wielding influence undemocratically behind the scenes. His political interventions at the time were quaint by comparison – publishing a collection of policy-focused essays and funding a thinktank for the Lib Dems – but he nonetheless felt uneasy about the notion that he was “trying to buy policy”. “I’d rather have an elected position,” he said. Almost two decades later, it seems that Marshall’s conscience may at least be a more peaceful place.