© Mike Turner / Prospect / Justin Metz

The Marshall Plan

Hedge fund manager Paul Marshall is on a God-driven mission to transform the religious fabric of the nation–and he has the money to do it
March 27, 2024

It was around 1980 that Paul Marshall, a keen Christian undergraduate at Oxford, went to a presentation by the evangelical aid agency Tearfund. He was so impressed by the call for Christians to help the world’s poorest people that he committed £10 a month to the charity. Within a few years he had lost his faith, so he cancelled the standing order.

Now, aged 64 and having returned to faith, Marshall is one of the UK’s most generous philanthropists. Last year, according to the Sunday Times Giving List, he gave over £5.5m a month to charities. His money buys influence in the media, in education—and in the Church of England. His philosophy of faith-based philanthropy is simple. He seems to believe that he has been blessed by God and called to use his enormous wealth to change the culture of the UK. 

Marshall is co-owner of the hedge fund Marshall Wace, which he founded almost 30 years ago with Ian Wace. In 2017 the firm made £19m by shorting the beleaguered outsourcing giant Carillion, effectively betting that the company’s share price would plummet. Carillion was chaired by fellow evangelical Christian philanthropist Philip Nevill Green. Carillion collapsed, with the loss of thousands of jobs, but Marshall Wace carried on growing. In the year ending February 2022 it reported revenues of £1.5bn, with profits amounting to £720m (though the figures for the following year were slightly lower).

For one so astonishingly rich—he is worth around £800m, according to the Sunday Times Rich List—Marshall lives relatively modestly. Public filings appear to show him living in a Grade II listed house in southwest London with his wife Sabina, a French-Hungarian antiques dealer whom he met 40 years ago while studying for an MBA near Paris. (Their children include former Mumford & Sons band member Winston Marshall.)

Marshall is not interested in accumulating money for its own sake. He wants to change the world. Over the past 10 years it has become increasingly clear what he means by that—and how he does it, by using his money to leverage influence across swathes of British society. 

Marshall is worried by the displacement of the Christian ethic in society. He has said that “traditional British liberalism rests on the Judeo-Christian understanding that we are all, in moral terms, fallen creatures... Somewhere amid the arrogance of the Enlightenment, we lost this sense of fallenness” that is ultimately the consequence of the sins of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. On this view, we are all sinners, redeemed only by Christ’s death for us, so anything we have is an undeserved gift from God. What we do with our time, money and talents is a response to what God has done for us. This outlook reminds me of what Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 12:48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

It is here that Marshall’s philosophy of religion and his philosophy of philanthropy meet. If you believe your success is due to your own hard work or virtue, he suggested in a lecture in 2019, you may feel a sense of personal entitlement to any wealth you accumulate. But if you feel instead that your wealth and status are gifts from God, it makes for a kind of personal modesty—an understanding that, by the grace of God, you have been called to do special work for Him. 

Marshall is gracious, gentle and softly spoken. He makes no secret of his motivation. “The root is my faith,” he said in a 2012 interview with the Evening Standard. “I am a committed Church of England Christian, I believe we are all made in God’s image, that we all have gifts and that education is the key to realising our potential.” A 2019 event at the LSE Marshall Institute—the clue’s in the name—opened with the line: “If you care about philanthropy, you have to care about faith.”

When he left Oxford in the 1980s, Marshall believed that the way to change the world was through politics. He became a research assistant to future Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, and in 1987 stood for parliament for the SDP–Liberal Alliance in Fulham. With fellow Liberal David Laws, he co-edited The Orange Book, which was a plea for a return to the core liberal philosophies of choice and freedom. But he became disaffected with the Lib Dems’s position on Europe, and in 2015 left for the Conservative party. In May 2016 he donated £100,000 to the official Brexit campaign, Vote Leave, and was knighted the following month. He has since donated at least half a million pounds to the Tories. 

In recent years, he has also made multi-million-pound investments in education through Ark (Absolute Return for Kids), a children’s charity that he co-founded in 2002 and still chairs. Ark now runs 39 primary and secondary academies across the UK, many of them in areas of deprivation and ethnic diversity. The schools set high expectations for their students, matched by robust discipline. They are modelled on the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Programme), whose philosophy Marshall imported from the US. Michael Gove praised Ark’s academy schools throughout his spell as education secretary, and Marshall reciprocated with generous donations to Gove’s 2016 Tory leadership campaign fund. 

Indeed, Gove and Marshall have enjoyed a long and mutually supportive relationship. In 2011, Gove announced a plan to place a free, leatherbound copy of the King James Bible in every state school in the UK, at a cost of £370,000. The Bibles would bear the inscription: “Presented by the Secretary of State for Education.” When David Cameron refused to back Gove’s plan with government funds, Marshall was among the philanthropists enlisted by Gove to bail out the scheme.

In 1987, Marshall stood as a candidate for the SDP-Liberal Alliance; by May 2016 he was donating £100,000 to the official Brexit campaign

More recently, Marshall has turned his attention to the media. In 2017 he launched UnHerd, a web-based magazine with a private members’ club attached that is based conveniently on Old Queen Street, between the House of Commons and Conservative party HQ. UnHerd was initially edited by the former Times comment editor Tim Montgomerie, a friend who shares Marshall’s Christian faith.

At the start of 2021, Marshall invested £10m in GB News, taking over as interim chair when Andrew Neil—who had been the founding chairman—jumped ship. The following year, with the station in financial and technical chaos, Marshall stepped in with a further multi-million-pound investment and gained, with others, significant control of the company. Most of the rest is owned by Legatum Ventures, a private equity firm and cousin of the right-wing Legatum Institute, which at the time was headed by Conservative peer and evangelical church leader Philippa Stroud. GB News has so far declared losses of £76m in two and a half years. All Perspectives Ltd, the company owned by Marshall and Legatum, is owed £83.8m by the channel.

Now, Marshall is lining up a bid to take over the Telegraph and the Spectator through his UnHerd Ventures group. While the asking price for the Telegraph might be a stretch even for Marshall, he is being supported by fellow hedge fund manager and Christian philanthropist Ken Griffin. If the bid is successful, Marshall will be among the most powerful media owners in the UK. Even more importantly, he will have forged a role as kingmaker for the Conservative party for a generation. 

But the driver of all of this activity is not simply a desire for political power, or even a straightforward commitment to pay it forward. It is Marshall’s evangelical faith that lies behind it all. 

Since 1997, Sir Paul and Lady Sabina have been faithful worshippers at London’s Holy Trinity Brompton. It is one of the few churches in the country where their huge wealth would not make them look out of place. Holy Trinity (universally known as HTB) is no ordinary church. It has a budget of around £10m a year and a staff of 118, making it larger than several Church of England dioceses. Most parishes in the Church of England struggle to afford a curate. HTB has 28. In addition, there are no fewer than 14 ordinands—people in training to be priests or ministers. Together with four ministers, that totals 46 in leadership or training roles for one parish.

HTB is the home of the evangelistic Alpha course, and a centre of the charismatic church movement. Charismatic Christians believe that God intervenes personally in their lives through direct encounters with the Holy Spirit, sometimes in the form of ecstatic experiences. They may believe that God’s approval is expressed in their increasing numbers, wealth and influence. Over recent decades, HTB’s impact has extended into every corner of the Church of England. It is the engine room that now drives the Church—much to the resentment of many faithful clergy in poorer, more doctrinally diverse and less influential churches. HTB is the only parish church with its own caucus on the General Synod, the Church of England’s lawmaking body. The view from Brompton Road is that the Church is divided between those who champion the true faith and those who do not, and that God is blessing the faithful. 

HTB is also the church that formed   Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury. He was baptised there, married there and attended consistently until his mid-thirties. Some might say that it still owns him. If Welby has any hope left for the beleaguered institution he now leads, it is likely built on the idea that the HTB formula can be replicated in other places around the country, reviving the Church in the process. 

Holy Trinity Brompton church in Knightsbridge © Stephen Burrows / Alamy Stock Photo Holy Trinity Brompton church in Knightsbridge © Stephen Burrows / Alamy Stock Photo

More than any other, the issue that is likely to keep Welby awake at night is the fissure over the inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Until last year, HTB had adopted a position of “studied silence”. If asked, the clergy would say that everyone is welcome in the church, irrespective of their sexuality—though there have been allegations that gay people are not allowed to hold leadership roles. But last summer the network came out strongly against the prospect of prayers of blessing for same-sex couples being formally authorised under canon law (these are currently permitted on a provisional basis). It threatened division and possibly even legal action if the further liberalising proposals go ahead; the development is currently stalled. 

It will not be lost on Welby and his colleagues that the evangelical movement and its supporters are, to an extent, bankrolling the church, and that to lose them would be financially disastrous. Some clergy in the network are concerned that they may face repercussions if they speak or act in support of LGBT inclusion. 

Sir Paul and Lady Sabina Marshall with Konstantin Kisin at the launch of the UnHerd Club in 2022 © Jamie Wiseman/ANL/Shutterstock Sir Paul and Lady Sabina Marshall with Konstantin Kisin at the launch of the UnHerd Club in 2022 © Jamie Wiseman/ANL/Shutterstock

Culturally, Holy Trinity is rooted in the public school system and the ethos of English exceptionalism. Several of the clergy who have led the church into its current dominant position are Old Etonians, like Welby, and have been friends since meeting at Cambridge in the 1970s. Most were discipled in the Iwerne camps movement, run by an exclusive network of conservative Christians utterly focussed on recruiting “the best boys from the best schools” and converting them to its monochrome brand of Christianity. Other notable Iwerne alumni include Reform party leader Richard Tice—now a GB News presenter. The Iwerne Trust was chaired by the late John Smyth QC, who was later revealed to be one of the Church of England’s most prolific abusers of the modern era. 

HTB appears to have adopted the unsophisticated theology and muscular culture of Iwerne and sprinkled it with pizzazz. Its services fizz with electronic music, bright lights and Holy Spirit enthusiasm. There is an ambition to grow in numbers but also in influence, by inspiring, mentoring and equipping charismatic Christians to occupy high office, not just in the Church but in business, politics, the arts and the media. Few have fulfilled this vision more than Paul Marshall.

It is the faith of Holy Trinity Brompton that has nurtured Marshall over the past quarter of a century and given him the spiritual grounding for his vision of a redeemed society. In turn, he has invested in the HTB project and integrated it with his own vision.

Marshall was an early board member of St Paul’s Theological Centre, an audacious project launched by HTB in the mid-2000s to establish its own theological college. St Paul’s has spun off an even more influential venture: St Mellitus College, now an official Church of England training college, with around 300 candidates currently in training for ordination. Marshall has funded it generously. 

St Mellitus College is named after the first bishop of London, who was sent to the UK by Pope Gregory I with instructions to evangelise the English, not by demolishing the structures of pagan society but by entering into them, taking them over and Christianising them.

From a standing start in 2007, St Mellitus was training one in four of all new clergy by 2019. Several colleges in other theological traditions have faced closure as St Mellitus has hoovered up the candidates.

Marshall’s close friend Graham Tomlin was chosen to be its first principal. The two men had met as undergraduates at the Oxford Christian Union, where they formed a folk duo, playing guitars and singing in college bars. Tomlin was later made bishop of Kensington, and in 2022 he founded a Centre for Cultural Witness (CCW). From an office in Lambeth Palace, CCW publishes an online magazine, Seen & Unseen, which is like UnHerd with added religion. Once again, the Centre is funded by Marshall through his Sequoia Trust, which operates out of Marshall Wace Asset Management. It means that Marshall—and effectively Holy Trinity—now have an office inside the walls of Lambeth Palace. 

The Sequoia Trust is chaired by Marshall, with his wife and son among the trustees. It was founded in 2015 and in the year to mid-2022 dispensed some £80m in charitable giving; its net assets stood at £417m. It gave £10m to the Church Revitalisation Trust (CRT); £1m to HTB; and £18m to Ralston College, a new liberal arts college in Savannah, Georgia which admitted a grand total of 24 students in the academic year beginning in autumn 2022. The college’s chancellor is the controversial right-wing culture warrior Jordan Peterson. Sequoia also donated £336k to the Education Policy Institute, a charity of which Sir Paul is a trustee.

In the same year that he launched UnHerd, Marshall put huge sums into the creation of the Church Revitalisation Trust, “to further the church-planting activity which was previously undertaken by Holy Trinity Brompton”—a “plant” is a new or fundamentally re-invigorated worshipping community. HTB, the CRT and the Alpha course share their offices and many of their senior staff. The website of the CRT (now rebranded as “Revitalise”) says that its aims are “The Evangelisation of the Nation, The Revitalisation of the Church, The Transformation of Society.” 

The trust’s plan is “to plant City Centre Resource churches in key cities across England and Wales that will become hubs for resourcing, planting and regeneration within their dioceses and communities.” To achieve this, it will “recruit and train clergy and leaders... worship leaders, youth pastors, children’s workers, operations directors and social action workers”, to be deployed in a franchised network of newly planted churches. It is a Marshall Plan for the beleaguered Church of England, and is widely loathed in other parts of the Church for its flatpack formula of guitar music and easy certainties. 

New CRT churches have popped up recently in towns and cities including Liverpool, Cardiff, Wrexham, Torbay, Leatherhead and Basingstoke. The trust provided funds for the cash-strapped Manchester Diocese to buy the Grade II listed Ardwick Green Barracks (asking price, £2.25m) to plant a new HTB offshoot. Ardwick is among the most deprived areas in the UK. In 2022, the trust supported 24 newly planted churches, as well as sponsoring 11 “planting curates”. It supported two dozen faith leaders through a year of training in the HTB model, ready to be sent out into the world. If you don’t have a CRT church in your town or city, you probably soon will. 

Critics complain that CRT’s idea of planting a church sometimes seems to involve defenestrating an existing congregation that has served its community for decades, but most bishops—short of funds and with declining congregations—find it hard to resist the investment of energy and money. 

In July 2020, with the country reeling from the effects of Covid-19, culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced his department’s Community Match Challenge, through which £85m would be made available to charitable foundations to support people disadvantaged by the pandemic. Dowden said the government would match spending by organisations that were “helping families to provide nutritious meals, using innovative tech solutions to reach the most vulnerable or supporting the mental health of our young people.” Marshall’s charities, the CRT and Ark, each received handouts of between £4m and £5m from the Match Challenge in 2020. Marshall met Diana Barran, Conservative peer and then under secretary of state at the Department for Culture, twice at the end of that year. He had donated, perfectly properly, £500,000 to the Conservative party in late 2019.

Even without government support, the CRT is not short of wealthy backers. Alongside Marshall on the board there are three investment bankers and two other hedge fund managers. They include: insurance magnate Angus Winther (who is also church warden of Holy Trinity and a trustee of St Mellitus); big-shot investment managers Nichola Pease (former wife of disgraced hedge fund manager Crispin Odey) and Jeremy Herrmann; and venture capitalists Harry Lawson Johnston and Toby Baxendale.

The CRT declared income of almost £10m in 2020, much of it from the one-off grant of £4m of taxpayers’ money from the Match Challenge. It’s not clear where the initial £4m to be matched came from, given that CRT’s entire turnover for the previous year had been just £2.4m. 

Michael Gove speaks at the conference of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo Michael Gove speaks at the conference of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

At first glance, opening new churches around the country doesn’t appear to have been one of the aims of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, but in August 2020 the CRT’s objects were amended to include the relief of hardship and distress. This meant that a new strand of work called Love Your Neighbour could scoop the government funding and share it around the HTB network. The largest single grant from CRT, £500,000, went to Holy Trinity Brompton itself, even though HTB is already by some distance the richest parish church in the UK. Whatever genuinely worthy use the funding may have been put to, the connections are possibly unsettling. 

Marshall’s trust reaches deep into the structures of the Church of England. Under the Church’s current Strategic Development Programme, millions of pounds have been allocated to support growth in the HTB network. In fact, an independent review of the Church’s Strategic Development Fund found that 14 per cent of total funds had gone to projects run solely by the CRT, and an additional 29 per cent to those in which the CRT was involved together with churches from other traditions.

All of this stems from Marshall’s powerful sense that he has been called by God “for such a time as this”, to quote the phrase from the Book of Esther, much cited by evangelical culture warriors. He contends that liberalism “has lost its moorings” by cutting itself off from its Christian origins. He believes that large parts of the leadership of the Church have fallen captive to what his friend Gove, speaking in a broader context, has called “the resentment industry”. But in evangelical theology, attacks—whether from outside or inside the church—are to be expected. In fact, they are a sign that God is at work.

Marshall’s latest reform project is the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (the acronym serving as a second take on the Ark theme). Its glitzy inaugural conference, attended by 1,500 people last November, culminated with a keynote speech from Jordan Peterson in the O2. This Arc is crewed by right-wing politicians, activists and influencers, whose aim is to repair what their research describes as “the fraying of the social fabric”. While not explicitly religious, it is clear that faith—in its Judeo-Christian expression—underpins the enterprise. Once again, Legatum is providing finance and infrastructure for the movement, and Philippa Stroud is the CEO. When not in the Lords or piloting the Arc, Stroud has helped her husband, David, to lead the capital’s other charismatic megachurch network, Christ Church London. Gove spoke at the launch of the Alliance, praising Stroud and Marshall as Christians who, “like William Wilberforce, like Margaret Thatcher, have been inspired by their personal faith to help others in need.”

The GB News studio © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo The GB News studio © PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

At the £1,500-a-ticket launch of Arc—dubbed the “anti-woke Davos”—Stroud gave an interview to GB News. Asked about our “Judeo-Christian history”, she stressed the indispensable role of faith in public life. One reporter noted a tinge of Islamophobia about the proceedings. 

Despite all this, we’re not likely to see the emergence of a religious right in Britain comparable with the evangelical movement in the US any time soon. The historic social liberalism of the Church of England means the identification between evangelicals and the political right is nowhere near as potent. In the forthcoming UK general election, very few politicians will campaign on issues such as abortion rights, and few British pastors would dare to instruct their flocks how to vote. For a prospective MP to wear their Christian faith on their sleeve is more likely to deter voters than to attract them. Instead, evangelicals on the right are motivated by a belief that privilege—whether financial privilege or simply the fact of being born somewhere like the UK—is a literal gift from God, and that this comes with a responsibility to teach virtue to others. 

With his influence growing, and Telegraph ownership still a live possibility, it was awkward that the News Agents podcast and the campaigning organisation Hope not Hate revealed in February that Marshall had endorsed—through “likes” and reposts—a series of tweets expressing inflammatory anti-Muslim sentiments. Among the posts were messages saying that “there has never been a country that remained peaceful with a sizeable Islamic presence”, that “once the Muslims get to 15 to 20 per cent of the population, the current cold civil war will turn hot”, and that Muhammad was “one of the worst men to ever live”. In January 2024, Marshall liked a post on X saying “If we want European civilization to survive we need to not just close the borders but start mass expulsions immediately. We don’t stand a chance unless we start that process very soon.”

In September last year, around the time when he launched the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship and his bid for the Telegraph, Marshall set his X account to protected mode. He removed all identifying information and changed the handle to @areopagus123—an echo of venture capital company Areopagus Ventures Ltd that he registered in 2020. 

In evangelical theology, attacks are to be expected—they are a sign that God is at work

The word “Areopagus” might sound mysterious, but in evangelical Christian circles it is code. It refers to a place described in Chapter 17 of the Book of Acts, where St Paul addresses the pagan philosophers of Athens. Paul mocks them for their loyalty to multiple gods, and announces that he will proclaim to them the truth that they had been seeking; the “unknown God” they had been worshipping. 

Every evangelical Christian has heard sermons on this passage. It is a clarion call for missionary endeavour; a charge to go boldly forward with the true gospel of Christ. By choosing to call himself Areopagus, Marshall seems to be hinting that he sees himself as a latter-day Paul, sent into a hostile world to proclaim the good news to people who have fallen for idols. 

Marshall has subsequently said that he does not agree with all of the opinions expressed in the posts he “liked” or reposted. But in January, in response to a post from prominent anti-Muslim influencer Amy Mek saying that French Christians had “surrendered” to Islam, Marshall himself wrote that “The Christian church (all denominations) also has its useful idiots.” Who could he mean?