George Eustice: Lobbyists need to raise their game

The investigation by The Independent into Bell Pottinger has put lobbying under the spotlight and regulation back on the agenda.

George Eustice: Lobbyists need to raise their game
George Eustice: Lobbyists need to raise their game

Many companies complain that, while they enjoyed considerable access under Labour, they find Conservative ministers aloof. But who can blame them?

I spent a year working for Portland, which is a member of the Association of Professional Political Consultants and discloses its clients. Those agencies that sign up to this voluntary code will no doubt be disappointed that the few outside it have now made statutory regulation inevitable.

I think it is right to insist public affairs companies disclose or register their clients and their employees. However, I oppose the idea mooted in some quarters that politicians should disclose every meeting. It could create more pressure for ministers to meet every little organisation going. You met the People's Front of Judea, why not the Judean People's Front? The suggestion also implies politicians form their opinions based on who has lobbied them hardest. Ministers actually exercise judgement based on evidence and become adept at filtering out vested-interest lobbying.

Their relationship with the trade unions makes Labour ministers more at ease with old-style lobbying than Conservatives.

Two years ago I argued in PRWeek that many parts of the public affairs industry needed to change. They needed to spend less time worrying about access and more time coming up with powerful ideas that genuinely add something to the debate.

Many organisations have unique experience and evidence that is of real value to policy makers but large corporations have become obsessed with the tired jargon of 'stakeholders' and 'key influencers' and often want to meet a minister just so they can tick the box and report back that they have done their due diligence. One minister recently complained to me that there were dozens of people who wanted to meet him for a coffee but were unwilling to do the heavy lifting required to contribute meaningfully to boring policy consultations. It's not good enough and needs to change.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron

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