Lobbying: a dirty business?

Sunday 20 October, 9.30am until 10.15am, Conservatory Economic solutions?

The role in the political process played by lobbyists is under more scrutiny than ever. In everything from energy policy and banking reform to NHS privatisation and public health initiatives such as minimum pricing or plain packaging, the part played by lobbyists is increasingly controversial. David Cameron claims, ‘the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money … has tainted our politics for too long’. And with scandalous headlines provoking the resignation of a number of leading political figures recently, calls for a statutory register of lobbyists have grown, resulting in the coalition’s new Transparency of Lobbying Bill. 

For critics, the modern lobbyist is a byword for corruption and cronyism and lobbying is a profession so shadowy and disreputable that many of its practitioners deny it’s really their job. Its defenders counter that lobbying is an essential function in a democratic society and we need better and more accountable lobbyists, not fewer. While some believe that for every bit of bad policy there is a sharp-suited lobbyist cashing a fat cheque, others insist it is naïve to argue industry should not have a significant say in relevant matters of government, and that a degree of influence is even desirable.

So should people be wary of what might amount to the privatisation of influence, and rightly suspicious of what might result from seemingly innocent lunches? What about business itself? Has it not always been the case that contracts are won more through who you know than by a fair and open bidding process? Are today’s professional lobbyists, well-versed in the so-called ‘dark arts’, the pin-ups of crony capitalism or an essential part of democratic debate?

Peter Bingle
director, Terrapin Communications; one of Westminster's leading lobbyists

Paul Seaman
co-founder, Zurich Salon; editor, 21st Century PR Issues

Christine Thompson
manager, UK government relations, SABMiller

Kirk Leech
interim director, European Animal Research Campaign Centre; government affairs, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Recommended readings
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14

Introduces a statutory register of consultant lobbyists and establishes a Registrar to enforce the registration requirements. Regulates more closely election campaign spending by those not standing for election or registered as political parties. Strengthens the legal requirements placed on trade unions in relation to their obligation to keep their list of members up to date.

Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, 12 September 2013

Lobbying for me, but not for thee

The hypocrisy of the liberal critics of the Lobbying Bill.

Tim Black, spiked, 9 September 2013

Lobbying bill is a step backwards, says Labour

Labour is urging the government to rethink its plan for a statutory register of lobbyists, saying its proposals are a

BBC, 28 August 2013

Who's afraid of lobbying?

Lynton Crosby the lobbyist is not the problem - it’s Lynton Crosby the adviser.

Tim Black, spiked, 25 July 2013

Africa and oil

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