Let me start this post out by being open about my previous background. I worked in house in a public affairs capacity for Royal Mail and then Boots the Chemists. I have also been head of practice for a leading recruiter in the specific field of public affairs. I am also a passionate believer in good lobbying.
Now firstly you may ask what is good lobbying. OK let me give you one example of which I am slightly proud. It’s not a big think. The Government was introducing Alcohol Disorder Zones. Part of it meant any premise with a licence to sell alcohol could be levied to pay for Alcohol Disorder problems. Boots sell tiny alcoholic gift packs at Xmas. No evidence whatsoever that these have ever a) got people drunk and then b) led to crime and disorder in town centres. The issue was worse for Boots as the levy was based on the size of the licensed premise. The whole Boots store would have a licence say they would pay a bigger levy that say a small off licence that may indeed contribute to the problem in question.
I sent a briefing paper to the Shadow Minister in Question. They raised this issue showing the legislation would have uninteded consequences. Boots was not hit with a charge which would have been completely at odds with the purpose of the original legislation.
That is lobbying – it is about making bad legislation slightly better. Yes you may do it from one perspective – but that does not make the act of persuaded and lobbying a bad thing. It can be a force for good.
Not we have the sorry Byers saga effectively saying he is a taxi for rent. Now firstly I thought you weren’t allowed to act as a lobbyist whilst still being an MP (perhaps that shows how long I’ve been out of the industry??). Interestingly I was actually interviewed for the Head of Public Affairs position with National Express. Thank goodness I never took that career path eh?? This saga isn’t an issue for public affairs as such – it’s an issue for MPs who need to be more transparent and open.
So then we had Harman saying there will be a mandatory register of lobbyists. OK…. well firstly I assume it will include all those “campaigners” lobbying for charities. But that’s not the issue here. This would not have stopped what Byers has apparently done. Then Harman had the idiocy of trying to bring the employment of PPCs into the argument. Was she really suggesting that someone who had worked in a Public Affairs capacity should not be allowed to be an MP?
Isn’t that like saying a nurse can’t be an MP as they might favour nurses in a dispute within the NHS. Or maybe if you have worked for Greenpeace you couldn’t become an MP as you would have set views on environmental issues. Or perhaps because I worked and lobbied for Royal Mail I can’t be an MP? Tell that to Alan Johnson. He worked for Royal Mail and worked for their Union. God forbid you had a career before politics – it might skew your views when you get elected. Frankly I’d more people with experience of industry, small business and so on, on the Green benches.
Instead of turning the attack on the lobbying industry MPs need to get their own house in order. Maybe given the fact that in a few months time there will be more ex MPs than we have seen at many a General Election, they are more concerned with starting to feather their own nest and secure their own future, than looking after the interests of the public.