Industry figures fight back as politicians 'blame' lobbyists for Liam Fox scandal

Leading lobbyists took to the airwaves this week to defend the reputation of the public affairs industry in the wake of the Liam Fox scandal.

Industry figures fight back as politicians 'blame' lobbyists for Liam Fox scandal
Industry figures fight back as politicians 'blame' lobbyists for Liam Fox scandal

As the lobbying industry faced media criticism, Bell Pottinger Public affairs chairman Peter Bingle played a prominent role in the fightback, featuring on BBC Radio 4's World at One and briefly on BBC2's Newsnight.

Also taking up the baton were PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham, on World at One and Channel 4 News, and Lansons head of public affairs Mark Adams, on Radio 4's PM programme.

Industry bosses stressed that Fox's controversial friend Adam Werritty was not a 'lobbyist' in the accepted sense of the term, and accused politicians of attempting to deflect blame on to lobbyists. 'When politicians are naughty and they get caught, they blame lobbyists,' Bingle told Newsnight.

A statutory register of lobbyists was part of the coalition agreement. Following speculation that ministers would accelerate plans to set up a statutory register, Number 10 said this week that the time-table would not be changed. It means legislation is still due to be introduced in 2012, following a consultation paper due to be published 'quite soon', according to the Prime Minister's spokesman.

Labour this week called for a statutory register 'as a matter of urgency', adding that it should include records of meetings between lobbyists and ministers. Labour leader Ed Miliband told Sky News: 'People have a right to know who we meet and how we meet them.'

But he stressed the register should not become a 'bureaucratic nightmare'.

Meanwhile, the lobbying industry's collective fightback was punctured by a spat between senior lobbyists on Twitter. On Monday evening, Bingle wrote: 'Why is the rest of the public affairs industry so shy? You should be out there defending what you do. Shame on you!'

When Open Road boss Martin LeJenue told him that Adams - who debated lobbying transparency with Bingle last year - had put in a 'perfectly good' performance on PM, Bingle replied, provocatively: 'Who is Mark Adams?'

Minutes later, Adams hit back: 'He's the man who beat you in a public debate last February and persuaded you to join the self-regulatory system a few weeks later.'

Also read: Ministers' meetings linked to top Tory lobbying firm Quiller Consultants

 

IN THE PAPERS

  • 'The scandal that ruined Dr Fox is, at heart, a scandal about lobbying ... It is not clear how many corporate concerns gained access to the defence secretary via his best man.' Editorial, The Observer, 16 October
  • 'Lobbying has become part of the warp and woof of Britain's modern political culture and moves to counter its subtle but pernicious influence must be carefully considered.' Editorial, The Independent, 17 October
  • 'The scandal that forced the resignation of Dr Fox was in fact nothing to do with lobbyists. It would almost certainly not have been prevented by a register.' Rachel Sylvester, The Times, 18 October

 

IN NUMBERS

1,537 Number of times ministers met corporate representatives*

1,409 Number of times ministers met think-tanks, trade or interest groups*

833 Number of times ministers met charities*

130 Number of times ministers met union representatives*

*Source: Analysis of departmental records by The Guardian. Figures refer to the first ten months of the coalition Government.


HOW I SEE IT - Two public affairs experts on the next steps for lobbying regulation

Iain Anderson, director, Cicero Group

The Liam Fox scandal seems to me to be another example of Whitehall's checks and balances not working. The real question for policymakers remains: why was Adam Werritty allowed anywhere near the secretary of state?

Werritty was not part of the APPC or CIPR Public Affairs or any other group. He purported to be several things - but a recognised lobbyist he was not.

Shining a light on who lobbies and for whom is absolutely right. I have long argued that transparency is absolutely right, and I have no problem with a statutory register. As long as everyone is inside the tent - business, unions and charities too.

Debate remains as to whether the taxpayer will get best value from this process. And that means relevant transparency of meetings that occur - not a line-by-line running commentary.

Gavin Devine, chief operating officer, MHP Communications

The sudden keenness to 'do something' about lobbying in the wake of recent stories about Liam Fox is as predictable as it is misplaced. But public affairs professionals should take heart. What is proposed presents many more opportunities than risks.

A new structure will set us even further apart from the 'amateurs' who are almost always the cause of lobbying scandals.

Any proposals that do emerge from the Government should have to pass a Werritty test: would his activities have been caught by the new regime? That reinforces the key point, that any new regime must be comprehensive.

Allowing some organisations, individuals and even professions to lobby unfettered while subjecting others to regulation would not simply be unjust. It would also be ineffective.

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