Three to watch

Developing public affairs stories to keep tabs on.

1. The tobacco lobby scored a significant victory last month when the Department of Health made a last-minute U-turn on its plans to force cigarette manufacturers to use plain packaging.

Some concerted lobbying by Gallaher, Imperial et al, including print ads, raised the issue of the lack of any clear evidence that plain packs would reduce smoking. This was contradicted, via a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, by anti-smoking campaigners.

The tobacco lobby then adopted a new message that appears to have worked - threatening to shift packaging production out of the UK if the plain packs legislation was passed.

Questions to ask - Threatening to remove operations from the UK is a well-worn path for corporate lobbying. Is the coalition Government more vulnerable than ever to this tactic?

2. Another surprise in the Queen's Speech was the lack of any plans for a statutory register of lobbyists.* It has left confusion and something of a vacuum in the UK public affairs industry, as illustrated by this statement from Association for Professional Political Consultants chair Michael Burrell: 'The coalition Government has to make clear its intentions ... We're now in limbo as to exactly what the future holds with no clear direction of travel.'

CIPR president Jane Wilson hopes the pause will open up an opportunity for the industry to have more say in any proposals, although until it can get clarity, the implications for lobbyists are anyone's guess.

Questions to ask - Does the Government still intend to bring in a register of lobbyists and has it only delayed this bill because of lack of parliamentary time? Will MP Patrick Mercer's indiscretions give impetus to this process?

3. Fresh from his electoral successes (and a duffing-up north of the border), UKIP founder Nigel Farage claims to be building a constituency within the City. A Daily Telegraph story reported that Farage has picked up a handful of supporters in the kind of financial organisations capable of providing some significant bankrolling.

Funnily enough, just days after this story appeared, the same title reported the wide disparity between the donations received by the Tories in the first three months of this year (£3.6m) and the £74,150 given to UKIP by a businessman who believes that unmarried mothers should be given 'a good smack'. Clearly some swift briefing by Conservative Central Office.

Question to ask - How long will it be before UKIP becomes a bona fide lobbying target as Farage becomes an ever-more vocal thorn in David Cameron's side?


* Just after this article went to press, Downing Street announced plans to publish a statutory register of lobbyists by the end of July 2013 

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