Part Four: Who’s That Skulking In The Lobby?
One surefire way for groups and companies to assure face-time with Select Committee MPs and government Ministers is to collar them in the party-neutral public areas of Parliament. This modus operandi, called Lobbying, is cloaked in ambiguous ethics. It’s certainly true that in the late 1780s Prime Minister Pitt received Hull MP William Wilberforce and became convinced that a debate was required to regulate the horrors of the slave trade, which had contributed so successfully to the nation’s economy.
Equally true are the persistent lobbying techniques about a century later employed by both women and male supporters of universal suffrage.
Yet it cannot be denied that over the past hundred years or so the influence of Lobbyists has shifted from those consumed by an ethical desire to improve society’s most vulnerable to a phalanx of Public Relations Companies focused on vested interests.
These hail fellows [and gals] well-met are topers and liggers to the nth degree. Like fickle Uni debaters they can change sides to argue cases on behalf of the biggest paycheque. They’ve abandoned morality and are willing to justify any social horror. Nuclear weapons: such a good idea! Fracking? We’ll pay you to contaminate the land under your house, it’s perfectly safe! [Just hide all those inconvenient documents from the USA, Mexico, and the Indian Ocean.] Sweet teeth begone? Well, not too fast: you can water down the legislation. Spin out the decline in sugar over four years and make the whole thing voluntary; you can still show telly adverts to stimulate sucrose demand. And guess what happens when you pour water over sugar – it melts away.
As the influence of Lobbyists grows, the agendas of Big Business, both national and global, push out the kinds of populist groups motivated by ethics over money. There are those who favour the abandonment of the lobby system altogether. I’m probably one of them. Though I do heed the counter argument that claims it’s those otherwise little voices and relatively impotent groups which will suffer, drowned out by the roar of vested interest.
Well, perhaps that was true a few decades ago. But the unethical agenda of Public Relations companies to influence political policy has become too entrenched. The most blatant example is what political analysts term The Revolving Door Policy. When MPs, government ministers, and even influential civil servants abandon their Parliamentary duties, they frequently pop up not long afterward in obscenely well-paid jobs or sinecures, working in the very industries whose government secrets they’ve been privy to in office.
And, of course, the door revolves the other way, too. Independent think-tank The High Pay Centre whose non-partisan agenda takes in equality gaps in corporate pay packets, cites several HoL nominees being subsequently assigned to Ministerial office, including Lord Green of HSBC, Lord Deighton of Goldman Sachs. The Public Accounts Select Committee has previously noted with some understandable outrage, the Revolving Door consultancies in the gift of government has been costing nearly a billion quid a year.
As the High Pay Centre director Deborah Hargreaves points out: “It is useful for politicians and Government officials to be able to draw on experience of working in the private sector. At the same time, a balance has to be struck. Private companies exist to make money, first and foremost. They have different values to the public service ethic we expect of Ministers and civil servants.
“The interests of big business and the interests of society are already too easily confused in public debate. They are not synonymous, but a Government dominated by former business leaders risks governing as if they are.”
It’s salutary to pit these stats against politicos’ fury at barrister Shami Chakrabati’s HoL honour for her wholly ethical and dedicated decades as head of Liberty.
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This post was written by outRageous!