COMMENT: PLATFORM; Honesty really is the lobbyist’s best policy

The erosion of professional intergrity has made it almost impossible for self-regulationto continue, says Chris Butler

The erosion of professional intergrity has made it almost impossible for

self-regulationto continue, says Chris Butler



Nolan has addressed issues related to sleaze in Parliament, but some

lobbyists also need to put their own houses in order. Public Affairs

consultancy requires the integrity that is an essential part of any

profession if it is to continue to merit the title.



In so far as codes of conduct help buttress professional standards, they

are to be welcomed. Although unhappy about the sectional feuding between

the PRCA, the APPC and the unregulated section of the profession, we at

Grandfield are happy to abide by the spirit of the associations’ Codes

of Conduct.



Most of the comment on ethics in our profession has revolved around what

are perceived as unhealthy connections between lobbyists and Members of

both Houses of Parliament.



Public concern seems to concentrate on cash changing hands between

lobbyist and Parliamentarian in order that personal influence should be

used to subvert the decision-making process.



The system really does not work like that. The proper function of

lobbying is to present a case in its best argued form rather than to try

to subvert the consideration of the arguments. Nevertheless it is

correct that this concern should be addressed.



In practice, however, lobbying is sometimes dishonestly plied in ways

that Nolan does not address. Sometimes these machinations are covered in

the Codes of Conduct, especially by the rather vague catch-all

requirement of ‘acting in an honest manner’ (APPC), but sometimes they

do not appear to be.



The following underhand activities have not gripped public imagination

to the same extent as politicians’ peccadilloes:



* Claiming to employ specific consultants who are no longer available or

making false or no longer valid claims in published biographies of

consultants;



* Claiming that you have easy access to, or are bosom chums with, a

particular Minister when you are not;



* Not declaring your own or your client’s sponsorship of conferences or

publications designed to carry a political message;



* Seeding rumours within the Palace of Westminster, or the media

(including scandal sheets) and providing malicious steers to political

correspondents about politicians and/or competitors;



* Organising or inspiring opposition to/attacks on MPs in their own

constituencies where they are taking an unhelpful line;



* Claiming to have more consultants than are actually on the staff, or

passing off occasional contacts as readily available to bat for clients;



* Claiming political views which you do not actually have in order to

curry favour;



* Claiming to the client that you have just been consulted by Number Ten

when the knowledge you impart was happened upon in some other way or

when you have initiated the approach yourself;



* Falsely claiming to have offices or even associate offices in foreign

countries;



* Servicing clients in the same industry but with different conflicting

agendas without even telling them;



* Generating substantial amounts of chargeable time by providing

information about only tangentially important matters;



* Claiming actually to be working within the client company when

speaking to outside organisations.



My purpose is not to denigrate competitors or dish the dirt: it is to

call for higher standards generally. I believe that the days of self-

regulation are drawing to a close, there is no excuse to allow

dishonesty to fester within a profession. The time has come for us to be

regulated by Parliament or an independent regulator - sensitively, but

firmly.



Chris Butler is a former MP and now director of Grandfield Public

Affairs



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