I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago on lobbying. It had been prompted by a story I read in the New York Times showing the amounts of money being spent by high tech companies seeking to influence the policies of US Federal institutions. I promised to look into what was going on in the UK and at EU level with a view to discovering if comparable data are available. Short answer: not really.
There seem to be voluntary registers of various kinds in operation around Europe and in Brussels. Some of these show which companies are using which lobbyists, but note the word “voluntary”. While the EU rules require certain financial information to be disclosed by accredited lobbyists there is nothing that goes anywhere close to what the Americans have. Naturally this fuels a great deal of speculation. Perhaps the lobbying industry needs to hire some lobbyists to get this sorted out.
Before moving on
Before consigning the issue to that box marked “if only I had more time I’d like to look into this” I thought I would report back on the little I did discover. Obviously this is a highly charged and highly political issue. It’s about shaping public policy so it’s bound to be.
I found a wonderful 18th century reference
a friend at court is worth a penny in the purse
That just about sums it up. The point is jostling to get your voice heard by those in authority, with a view to getting them to decide something in your favour is as old as the hills. It’s part of the essence of democratic politics.
UK Parliament looks at it
Back in 1984-85, in the UK’s House of Commons, the First Report of the Members’ Interests Committee declared as follows
It is the right of any citizen to lobby his Member of Parliament, and if he considers that his case can be better advanced with professional assistance he has every right to avail himself of that assistance
The comparison with lawyers is clear. The difference is lawyers are highly regulated. Lobbyists are not.
In the UK there have been several embarrassing instances where senior politicians were caught either accepting undeclared favours from lobbyists or where senior politicians seeking new careers as lobbyists were exposed on camera promising, for example, that in return for £2.5 squillion, they could get the Pope and Oscar Wilde to write letters to Barnsley Borough Council supporting a client’s common sense proposal to develop a nuclear waste processing facility next door to Sainsbury’s car park just off the High Street.
Our Prime Minister clearly thought lobbying was a big deal. In a speech made in February, 2010, when he was Leader of the Opposition, Mr Cameron said
It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.
According to the Daily Telegraph the Conservative leader went on to say lobbying is a “£2 billion industry” with a big presence at Westminster. Apparently in some cases MPs are approached more than 100 times a week by lobbyists.
The man who is now Prime Minister said he wanted to shine “the light of transparency” on lobbying so that politics “comes clean about who is buying power and influence.”