2012 is the year the lobbying industry must get its house in order and be far more robust as to why what it does is an essential part of the democratic process.
I write this with a vested interest. Yes, it’s true, I have worked as a lobbyist, a public affairs professional, a campaigner, a government relations practitioner. In fact all of these words could be used to describe aspects of the job I have done both in the public and private sector.
Some MPs may be shocked that the public sector have people involved in public affairs. Yes it’s true! So those critics of lobbying in Parliament, and there are many, should ask themselves when they ask a question about Royal Mail, just who do they think provides the answer. Well it wasn’t the local-postie. No the Royal Mail, when I worked there had a Government Relations team, which did things like help prepare executives for select committee appearances, and help manage the relationship the company had with parliamentarians.
Maybe MPs would be surprised to learn the Government Relations team was instrumental in ensuring post offices numbers were segmented by parliamentary constituency. It certainly wasn’t needed for the operational requirements of the company. So yes, Government Relations practitioners aren’t involved in some ‘dark art’.
Lobbying was dragged through the mud towards the end of 2011 over the whole ‘Werritty affair’, even though Werritty was no lobbyist. There is a slight irony in the fact that an MP made an error of judgment yet it is the lobbying industry that faced both barrels aimed at it. Perhaps we should not have been surprised. MPs had taken a kicking over expenses. Then it was the turn of the media over phone hacking – so perhaps it was just the turn of the public affairs industry.
Of course the industry needs to be open and transparent, but it doesn’t take much effort to see what clients each public affairs agency represents. The same cannot be currently said of those practitioners working in-house (I was one of them) or those lobbying on behalf of charities (who often have much larger lobbying teams than FTSE 100 companies). So let’s hope that the much-awaited consultation will ensure there is a level playing field for all practitioners involved in lobbying.
A final thought is that for those who think lobbying is an affront to democracy, are they really suggesting that proposed legislation which does not take into account alternative views makes for good legislation? I think they would be the first to suggest that groups campaigning against, for example, changes to the Feed In Tariff for solar energy have a legitimate right to do so. If they pay someone who can help such a campaign, does that make what they are doing either wrong, or illegitimate? No of course not. Which is why lobbying has a right to exist in our democratic system, although 2012 is the year when the industry has to make just such a case.
This article first appeared on Dale & Co