Do you trust lobbyists?

lobbyOver on Tearfund’s Just Policy blog Rosanne White confesses to being a lobbyist. I particularly concur with her fears of alienation at the dinner table if the topics of religion and politics are off the agenda, because I, like her, work in both.

About 18 months ago I wrote a similar defence. I attempted the herculean task of defending lobbying as a noble profession. That was the last time a crisis erupted over claims of access for cash, shady meetings to steer government policy. Yet before the reputation of lobbyists is tarnished any more than it has already, remember the lobbyists Patrick Mercers and Lords Laird, Mackenzie and Cunningham purportedly did business with were not lobbyists at all. They were journalists pretending to be lobbyists.

The politicians under the microscope have serious charges to answer and on the prima facie evidence seem to have been willing to take money in return for parliamentary favours. That is wrong and inexcusable. But to then blame lobbyists is a bit like a journalist going under cover as a fire fighter, starting a fire and than splashing headlines about fire fighters burning down what they are paid to protect.

It also means the government’s proposed action in response is reactionary and ill thought through. A register of lobbyists will not stop MPs from behaving how Patrick Mercer is accused of, if true he is likely to have fallen foul of rules on paid advocacy and possibly also face criminal charges under bribery laws. A statutory register of lobbyists would not have stopped it and is not needed to tell us it is wrong. That’s where I disagree with Rosanne’s blog, I have no huge problem with a register, and likewise I have nothing to hide, I just don’t think it would solve the problem.

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