Public Affairs: Soap Box - Gavin Devine, chief operating officer, MHP Communications

If you read the weekend newspapers, you would have reached a few conclusions recently.

Lobbying is immoral. Politicians can't be trusted to engage maturely with anyone. They should be left in isolation to develop policy without investigating the impact and unintended consequences of their plans.

No? Well, one might be forgiven for thinking sometimes that this is the agenda of some journalists. That would be unfair, of course, but at times that seems to be the basis of their argument.

Nevertheless, most professional lobbyists strongly support high-quality investigative journalism that exposes wrongdoing or simple poor practice by part-timers and sole traders in our industry - or that promotes the long overdue debate about party funding. We believe that lobbying based on content rather than contacts leads to better policy.

At the same time, we believe the media have a vital role in bringing to account those who bring lobbying into disrepute.

But there is so often a wearying failure to distinguish between those who believe that lobbying is about content - helping clients contribute to transparent policy debates - and those who believe it is only about contact - perhaps advocating political donations as a way to enter the policy process - as well as between those who pay for goods and services received, as opposed to those who simply make donations to a party. These are very different, in practice and in principle.

Almost all professional lobbyists believe in transparency and accept and welcome the fact that the media will continue to scrutinise the policy-making process.

But that scrutiny should surely be based on a presumption that making better policy by listening to the evidence, experience and arguments of businesses, trade unions, campaigning groups, charities and others, is not a grubby secret practice, but is actually a vital part of the UK's democracy.

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