A few quick points about Lobbyfrenzy.
How do politicians inform ourselves about the things we have to vote on and make decisions about? Well, we speak to people who know about the subjects. We don’t pretend those folk don’t have interests – anyone who tells you they don’t have an interest is likely a liar – instead we build that into the whole equation. Whether the folk we’re talking to are regular constituents or Google-Exxon, or both, we’re consulting them and they’re lobbying us. Lobbying isn’t done in a box outside parliament, nor is it furtive. Those who demonise it have their own lobbying agenda for doing so. Lobbying is politics and politics is lobbying.
It’s true that there are some small companies who operate as ‘lobbyists’. If an organisation which perhaps does not routinely deal with politicians has an issue over a proposed piece of legislation, for example, then it might go to one of these ‘lobbyists’ to find out what they can do to serve their own ends. The lobbyist will describe how Westminster works and perhaps set up meetings with relevant politicians. This kind of ‘lobbyist’ represents the tiny minority of lobbyists, but reading the papers you’d think they did all the political lobbying in the world. The fact is that most large organisations, in the public and private sector, employ their own in-house lobbyists to represent their interests to politicians. I must admit, I have sometimes been taken aback by how much money is spent by public sector bodies lobbying – certainly tens of millions of pounds every year. Charities, too, are often dedicated almost solely to the business of lobbying. What’s the RSPCA? Well, today it’s primarily a lobbying organisation. What’s Friends of the Earth? Ditto. Trades Unions? Lobbyists. Exam Boards, quangos, multinationals, pressure groups – all lobbyists. Politicians are lobbyists.
So, there’s a lot of lobbying going on. That’s democracy. Now, though, opportunists from the worlds of politics, the media and of course lobbying itself want to regulate. That’ll mean a register of contacts with MPs, I guess. And it’ll also mean another body of the unelected ‘great and good’ making judgements and pronouncements about who politicians are allowed to talk to and in what circumstances. That all sounds thoroughly sinister to me. It’ll certainly mean more jobs for lobbyists, since organisations will need ‘accredited’ lobbyists – wait for the inevitable explosion of ‘public advocacy’ masters degrees leading to membership of a new pretendy chartered institute of lobbyists.
No wonder some lobbyists are lobbying heavily for the regulation of lobbying. They want to enhance their own status, prestige and power – that’s their interest. Making politics more transparent doesn’t come into it.
From the coverage, the media seems keen on the idea of greater regulation of lobbyists. That’s odd, really, since they don’t like Leveson much and the principle here is largely the same. It’s frankly odd to hear journalists, often themselves lobbyists working for organisations which lobby aggressively, argue for a body of the great and good to judge and constrain their contact with politicians and indeed politicians contact with everyone else including constituents.
But there it is, I guess. It’s time to do something or other, apparently – have a heated debate then pass ineffectual and possibly even quite sinister, knee-jerk legislation. Then the lobbyists who lobbied for that will pop that onto their CV. Happy days.