EDITORIAL: The resurrection of lobbying's role

It has become a cliche to describe the House of Commons as powerless.

These are yesterday's politicians, received wisdom has it, a rubber stamp for whatever ideas those in the Downing Street policy unit come up with.

The result of this has been the virtual disappearance of such phrases as 'parliamentary lobbying,' to be replaced by loftier notions of integrated public affairs campaigning.

With a crunch vote looming on tuition fees for those in higher education, old-school 'parliamentary lobbying' has made a dramatic return to public life. As the battle heats up for the minds of the few dozen MPs who matter, it is refreshing to note that these elected representatives are now worth courting once more.

Lobbying the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers or officials is now apparently a waste of time - they have obviously already decided to forge ahead with this policy. But for the academic community, the National Union of Students and the staff at Downing Street, the one-at-a-time lobbying war is reaching fever pitch.

Faced with this important parliamentary decision - the Higher Education Bill that will bring in top-up fees goes to a vote at the end of January - all the protagonists now appear to be beefing up their lobbying operations.

In hiring Finsbury to bolster its work, Universities UK has drafted in an extra pair of hands - and with all those arms to twist, this should come as no surprise. Sources close to the organisation believe the top-up fees debate is a bigger issue than just lobbying. And indeed it is, but that doesn't mean lobbying is not going to play a central role in determining the outcome.

When major issues hinge on a vote in Parliament (rather than a run of negative headlines, or a share-price spike), the old-fashioned influencing and deal-making skills of what was presumed to be an extinct breed of lobbyists are suddenly found to have retained some value after all.

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