On 3rd February 2013, the King of Bahrain met with Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster. As well as being the richest British person, Gerald Grosvenor is chairman of G3, a strategic advisory firm hired by Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority in 2011 to ‘develop a media campaign to support Bahrain’s position in the international community’. Although details of the contract are still not clear, Bahrain Watch documented how Lt. Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, a retired British army officer working as a special adviser to G3, wrote a number of articles for various newspapers that highlighted, among other things, the threat of Iran and Britain’s important and historic relationship with Bahrain. Lamb also argued that the government crackdown was not ‘routine or part of an established pattern of excess’. Lamb never clarified in any of his pieces that he was working for a company that was contracted by the government of Bahrain to do PR work.
King Hamad has met with Gerald Grosvenor on at least four separate occasions, and given the fact that the value of the contract is £1.5 million, it is hardly surprising that the King has access to G3’s chairman. The first meeting between the two occurred on 10th April 2011, when they discussed bilateral relations at the King’s Gudaibiya palace in Bahrain. Shortly afterwards, on 15th May 2011, Grosvenor met with the King at his palace in Safriya. On the same day, Grosvenor also visited the Bahrain International Circuit. The two met again on 26th August 2012, this time during the King’s visit to the United Kingdom. It is interesting to note that the tender awarded for G3’s contract with Bahrain is dated July 2011, three months after Gerald Grosvenor first visited King Hamad in Bahrain. This suggests that companies like G3 market their services by cynically exploiting the credibility associated with titles of nobility in order to secure meetings with heads of state such as King Hamad.
In another interesting move, G3 recently hired John Yates – the former Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police. After resigning from the Met following the phone-hacking scandal, Yates was employed by the Bahraini government to help reform the country’s police. During his time in Bahrain, Yates wrote an article for the Telegraph defending the government of Bahrain. The oped, entitled ‘Bahrain is bewildered by the world’s hostility’, used the oft regurgitated argument that King Hamad’s establishment of the BICI demonstrated the regime’s commitment to reforming its ways. Despite his past work for Bahrain, Yates’s new role in G3 is to focus on the investigation of major corporations.
King Hamad’s relationship with the British establishment also came under scrutiny after he recently donated £3 million pound to Britain’s Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. In a move that angered several politicians, Sandhurst agreed to change the name of the Mons Hall to the King Hamad Hall (The Mons Hall was named in commemoration of thousands of British soldiers who died in the Battle of Mons in 1914). Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said that the donation was tantamount to a bribe, and that the King of Bahrain was trying to ‘buy our [British] silence’. Such payments, coupled with meetings with the likes of Gerald Grosvenor, indicate the King’s attempts to ingratiate himself with people who operate in the elite circles of the British establishment. These efforts appear to be nothing more than attempts to co-opt important figures in British society in order that they use their influence to impact British policy towards Bahrain. Indeed, such opaque high society diplomacy works in opposition to the necessary pressure that Britain should be exerting on the Bahrain government to enact meaningful reform.