FOCUS: LOBBYING; Keeping in touch with the Cabinet

LIFE AFTER NOLAN: The Nolan report brought home to lobbyists the need to have access to media relations skills FROM MP TO MD: Why ex-Government specialists who turn adviser need to watch where they’re treading LABOUR IMPLICATIONS: Business leaderstake a serious look at what life under Labour would mean to them

LIFE AFTER NOLAN: The Nolan report brought home to lobbyists the need

to have access to media relations skills

FROM MP TO MD: Why ex-Government specialists who turn adviser need to

watch where they’re treading

LABOUR IMPLICATIONS: Business leaderstake a serious look at what life

under Labour would mean to them



Post-Nolan lobbyists are having to convince clients not only of their

integrity, but of their ability to navigate both the corridors of power

and those of the media world. Report by Virginia Matthews



Mention the ‘N’ word to any professional lobbyist and you are apt to get

a mini lecture on how ‘constructive’ Nolan has been for the industry -

how it has focused attention on the role of lobbying in the democratic

process, and how important it is that MPs and lobbyists now know exactly

where they stand.



But despite the bravado with which many of the political consultancies

are treating the whole sorry episode - and even the most bullish of them

say that the aftermath of Nolan is far from over - there are others who

share the view of Nick de Luca, senior associate at APCO UK, that what

lobbying needs right now is some top-notch PR of its own.



‘It is certainly the case that 10 years ago, lobbying was all about

lavish lunching and calling in favours from people who were at Eton with

you,’ says American-born de Luca, ‘but nowadays, when your favourite

backbench MPs are just as likely to have been lobbied by the Consumers’

Association as by some massive company, the old boy network isn’t quite

so reliable.’



‘What we need to do post-Nolan is to get the message across that far

from being innately evil and corrupt, we lobbyists are there to give

professional advice to anyone who needs to influence the policy

decisions made by Government. While we are usually associated with big

business, as an industry we also do extensive work for trade unions,

pressure groups and charities.’



While lobbyists now have a more outward looking stance collectively,

with bodies such as the recently-formed Association of Professional PR

Consultants (APPC), there appears to be little consensus on how the

industry should be defined.



Although APPC secretary Charles Miller, for example, is keen to

dissociate political lobbying from what he calls the ‘smells and bells’

techniques of mainstream public relations, Lord McNally, director of

public affairs at Shandwick, believes that the PR industry needs

‘further splintering and fragmentation’ like John Major needs another

disastrous by-election result.



But diverting though the internal wranglings of the lobbying industry no

doubt are, Michael Burrell, managing director of Westminster Strategy

and a founder member of the APPC, is keen to stress that there are

crucial issues impacting on public affairs from outside the industry

too: ‘We’ve all spent a lot of time getting to know Westminster, but it

is also time that we got to know Whitehall a little better too,’ he

says.



‘While it might look as though politicians make all the decisions that

affect our clients’ businesses, it is the civil servants, as much as

the politicians, who have enormous influence on our clients.’



If today’s lobbyist needs to appreciate the subtleties of Yes Minister

just as much as Prime Minister’s Question Time, then he or she must

also, says Burrell, appreciate the growing importance of the select

committee: ‘These committees really are giving backbench MPs a whole new

way of influencing the agenda of Government,’ he says, ‘and are becoming

an important new target for all of us.’



In particular, Burrell mentions the Treasury Select Committee, for its

wide-ranging review of financial policy and the Social Security Select

Committee, chaired by Labour MP Frank Field, which, he says, has

‘influenced thinking on social policy, pensions and the enormous

implications of our ageing population’.



Paul Twyman chairman of Political Strategy believes that clients are

squandering money on Westminster that would be better spent on

Whitehall. ‘Clients are quite unsophisticated and even big companies

waste money on activities geared at MPs when, for about a tenth of the

price, you can achieve these aims by focusing on one or two civil

servants and one minister,’ says Twyman.



‘Select committees are almost secret weapons. Most people haven’t

tumbled how useful they are. But you have to go in at the right level,

there is too much of a tendency to bother ministers and write to the

permanent secretary. The secret is to have close links with the desk

clerk because these are the people who do the briefings, suggest some of

the questions that MPs should ask and help draft the final reports,’

says Twyman.



Edward Bickham, the managing director of corporate policy and public

affairs at Hill and Knowlton, goes even further: ‘There is still an

assumption in this industry that public policy is made purely by MPs and

officials, but we take the view that it is also essential to get a

message across to policy writers on newspapers and to members of

leading academic think-tanks.’



Bickham believes that Hill and Knowlton is one of the few consultancies

to be tackling what Bickham calls the ‘victim syndrome,’ endemic to

political communications specialists. ‘When it comes to mainstream

product development, most companies are proactive, planning their future

launches by looking at what consumers are doing and so forth. Yet in

public policy, they are too willing to sit back and let things happen to

them,’ he says. ‘We believe that it is vital that lobbyists actually

influence policy themselves, particularly in the area of regulation.’



As Charles Miller points out, today’s lobbyist is bombarded with

regulations, be they home-grown or shipped over from Brussels, and

whether those regulations are concerned with utilities,

telecommunications or, increasingly, the financial services world, few

lobbyists can afford to ignore their complexities.



If Europe remains the focus for most lobbyists, APCO -which has offices

in Washington, Brussels and Moscow as well as London and calls itself

‘the only international public affairs network’ - believes that

lobbying needs to take an increasingly global view of its work.



‘While British MPs were understandably upset when McDonald’s stopped

using British beef for example, it was simply a case of a multinational

company protecting a global brand,’ says Nick de Luca. ‘Most clients

need to look at the key issues of the day on an international basis.’



Although there is still fierce debate as to whether the lobbying

industry should be seen as part and parcel of PR, there can be little

doubt that to be an effective lobbyist, one needs to understand general

media issues too.



‘I don’t see how political campaigning can be dissociated from

mainstream publicity work,’ says Leigh Mendelsohn, chairman of the PRCA

public affairs committee, ‘particularly not when so many apparently

simple consumer issues can end up becoming quasi-political.’



After all, she says, if the Monopolies and Mergers Commission

investigates pricing in, say, the contact lense sector, then a

previously mundane industry can overnight acquire the baggage associated

with being a ‘controversial issue’.



‘Everyone in PR,’ adds Mendelsohn, ‘should be aware of political events

and their likely impact on mainstream clients.’



While Mendelsohn would maintain that general PR consultancies can, and

should, take on lobbying specialists to handle specific public affairs

briefs, what about the other way around?



The Waterfront Partnership, which has long had expertise in the

transport sector --its earliest work was with the port authorities and

it now numbers railways among its clients - has recently hired Martin

Helm, ex-head of information at the Department of Transport,

specifically to strengthen its media side.



Deputy managing director Ian Dale says: ‘Increasingly, clients want

specialists. They simply haven’t got the time to spend six months with

you teaching you their business. We felt that for both existing and

future clients, a media specialist was vital.’



Helm, whose title is director of public relations, says of his new role:

‘Every organisation needs a profile; my job will be to build up this

consultancy’s profile alongside that of its clients.’



While the question of whether or not lobbying is simply PR with a

political hat will continue to rage inside consultancies, few people

would disagree that lobbyists need media skills just as much as the

corporate or product PR people need an understanding of politics.



As Burrell puts it: ‘The member of Parliament who says he or she isn’t

influenced by what they read in the newspaper or watch on the television

isn’t living in the real world. And, after all, what you soon learn as a

lobbyist is that MPs are really no different from the rest of us.’



Advocacy rules: Juggling the questions



Last November, the House of Commons significantly changed the rules on

advocacy when it amended procedures on Parliamentary privileges.



While paid advocacy is now strictly banned - ‘ no Member of the House

shall, in consideration of any remuneration...advocate or initiate any

cause or matter on behalf of any outside body or individual’ - paid

Parliamentary consultancy work remains admissible, so long as it is

declared in debate and on the Register of Members’ Interests published

on May 7, which must be made available to the public.



Any MP who takes on such work has to provide full written details,

including the fees he or she expects to be paid. Any direct financial

interest in a lobbying company must be declared fully.



Recommendations from the select committee on Standards in Public Life

stating that any member with a paid interest should not initiate or

participate in a delegation ‘where the problem affects only the body

from which he has a paid interest’ were resolved on by the House.



Within the terms of Nolan, a lobbying company can include not just a

specialist public affairs consultancy but any PR firm which offers

political lobbying, or any law and accountancy firm or regulatory

consultancy which includes lobbying among its list of services.



Although the new rules appear clear enough, the APPC’s Charles Miller

and others have little doubt that a determined MP could be able toignore

them. Several MPs, including David Mellor, the former Heritage

Secretary, have already defied the first post-Nolan register of members’

interests, claiming that their earnings have nothing to do with their

Commons positions.



Potential ways of bending the rules inside the House include asking a

colleague to ask those questions that your paymaster wants answers to -

strictly banned but hard to police - or asking them yourself on behalf

of a constituent. It would also be difficult to challenge any member who

claimed to be ‘taking a genuine interest in’ a topic he or she was

actually being paid to investigate.



Any money received can be listed as ‘non-Parliamentary work’, can be

divided up into small sums of under pounds 1,000 to hide its true worth

or conveniently banked overseas.



But as Miller points out: ‘I have no evidence of any MP doing any of

these things.’



Media influences: Tuning into MPs’ wave lengths



Seventy three per cent of MPs find The House Magazine compulsive

reading, but for general media, their reading and viewing habits are

based largely on party lines, finds a recent survey from Business

Planning & Research International (BPRI).



Over 80 per cent of Tory MPs read the Daily Telegraph, the Times and the

London Evening Standard three or more times a week, while as many as 90

per cent of Labour MPs read the left-leaning Guardian. More than six in

10 Labour members told pollsters that they read the Independent and the

Standard.



On a Sunday, 78 per cent of Tory MP’s regularly read the Sunday Times,

with 61 per cent also reading the Sunday Telegraph. Over 80 per cent of

Labour MP’s read the Observer, 50 per cent read the Sunday Times. Both

parties put the Mail on Sunday at the top of the Sunday tabloids list.



As far as TV goes, ITN’s News at Ten came top of the list of news

programmes watched by Tory MPs (67 per cent), followed by the BBC’s

Newsnight (49 per cent) and the Nine O’Clock News (37 per cent).



Among Labour MPs, Newsnight proved the most popular (64 per cent),

followed by the Six O’Clock News (52 per cent) and the Nine O’Clock News

(38 per cent). Twelve per cent of Tory members and seven per cent of

Labour also mentioned Sky News.



Radio 4’s claim to set the political agenda of the day with its top-

rated Today show is borne out in the BPRI survey, which finds that 73

per cent of Conservative and 64 per cent of Labour MPs tune in when the

House is sitting.



The survey was conducted among 100 MPs on the Political Opinion Panel

maintained by BPRI.



According to a second report by BPRI, the majority of Members continue

to support the notion that surveys can be an important lobbying tool.



Eighty-five per cent of MPs believe that the canvassing of their views

and opinions can be a valuable weapon in an organisation’s public

affairs programme, while 80 per cent said that research questionnaires

often made them think about an issue they had previously not considered.



In deciding whether or not to participate in a research programme, MPs

look at the relevance of the subject matter and the length of time it is

likely to take, as well as any inducements.



Case study: On-line lobbying



When the Fair Cigarette Tax Campaign (FCT), funded by the Tobacco

Manufacturers Association, hit on last year’s Budget as the springboard

for a major anti-tax publicity campaign, its lobbyists APCO UK were

keen to disseminate the message using the most up-to-date technology.



To complement the mainstream press activity, APCO devised one of the

country’s first full-scale Internet lobbying campaigns, inviting

interested Net users to directly petition Chancellor Kenneth Clarke via

the Web.



Although Westminster as a whole is not yet up to speed on the Internet,

individual backbenchers and Ministers are being recruited daily. And

while the World Wide Web is far from being an everyday medium for

political PR consultants, APCO’s Simon Milton believes that the computer

screen is likely to become a key tool for lobbyists in the coming

century: ‘With the FCT Campaign, we invited people to access information

via a rolling display which showed exactly how much money people spend

on cigarettes and how much of that is tax. When we invited people to

register their own details and request a further questionnaire, the

number of hits went up by 60 per cent.’



While no-one knows for sure how many Britons are now regularly surfing

the Net, APCO’s own research suggests that as many as 1,300 new

households are being recruited each week; the vast majority of them

young males.



And, as far as slumbering Westminster is concerned, the next election

will see a dramatic increase in demand for e-mail numbers and web sites,

says Milton:



‘The next election is likely to bring in lots of younger MPs who are

arguably far more likely to be interested in modern technology than many

of the current incumbents. Lobbyists too should be getting up to speed.’



While for many of us there remains a fog of mystery surrounding the web,

Milton believes that most British clients are well-versed in the new

technology. At a recent conference he addressed on the issue of the

Internet, he says that ‘almost all the clients present had either seen

the Internet used or had it demonstrated to them’.



While Milton accepts that ignorance, more than hostility, is preventing

many of us from exploring the Internet for ourselves, he warns any

lurking Luddites: ‘Traditional paper-based forms of information-

gathering will eventually be superseded by on-line information; the Net

is a very fast-growing infant.’



Specialist advisers: Jumping over the fence



‘I don’t mind using my specialist knowledge to help colleagues plan

their strategies, but the thought of directly lobbying people who until

recently I was sitting next to at Government policy meetings would make

me feel highly uncomfortable.’



So says one of the new crop of ex-Governmental special advisers who from

1 April are bound by a new set of rules governing what they may, and may

not, work on when they leave those posts for one of the political

consultancies.



While it has long been understood that there should be a minimum three-

month cooling-off period between, say, being employed as a special

adviser to the Department of Education and Employment and using your DEE

contacts to act as a private sector lobbyist, the new rules go further.



Anyone wishing to make the transition from Whitehall to Whitehall

lobbyist must now seek approval from the Cabinet Office’s Business

Appointments Committee, who may ask an MP not to work on a previous

patch for a period of up to two years.



While there are perhaps few special advisers whose contacts and

information are sensitive enough to merit a two year cooling-off period

- and anyway, all are by definition bound by the Official Secrets Act,

which is in force for life - most take the view that it would be at the

very least highly irregular to leap from being gamekeeper to poacher on

a given topic for at least three months.



One says: ‘ If ex-special advisers are taken on solely because they are

seen to have important contacts and detailed knowledge of Government

policy, then consultancies will lose out because of these new rules and

will possibly stop employing people like me.’



‘If, on the other hand, we are taken on because of our wide-ranging

political experience and knowledge of how the system operates, then I

can’t see these new rules making much difference.’



While the penalties for infringement of the new rules remain unclear,

most special advisers appear to support their aims.



John Bercow, ex-special advisor to Virginia Bottomley at the Heritage

Department, joined Westminster Strategy as a senior consultant in

February. He speaks for most when he says: ‘ These new rules go some way

towards giving us an ethical framework within which to work.’



Labour lobbying: Doing business with the other side



‘Labour has never been more business-friendly and it would be wrong for

British firms to dread their winning the next election.’



So says Phil Cole, senior Labour consultant at Burson-Marsteller’s

government and public affairs division, who will address a London IBC

conference in June on the ‘Real implications of Labour for business,

industry and the City’.



With most firms, says B-M, now convinced that Labour has its best chance

in 20 years of winning the next election, Cole’s message - in a

presentation on ‘How to lobby Labour’ - is that companies should

already be getting to know the Blair team and their policies.



‘A number of businesses have already made contact with the shadow front

bench, particularly utilities, oil companies and others in highly

regulated markets, but some others remain completely unfamiliar with

Labour’s culture. While it would be wrong to go into talks with Labour

armed with a shopping list as such, it is important that more companies

get to know the beast, as it were,’ says Cole.



While there are still many uncertainties about how a Labour

administration will act, Cole believes that some strategies are already

set in concrete, among them the minimum wage, a windfall tax on

utilities and the much-derided Social Chapter.



What remains to be seen, says Cole, is whether or not the trade unions

regain the power they have lost in the post-Thatcher years, and whether

other lobby groups - environmentalists, for example - will now overtake

the unions in terms of their influence on a Labour Government.



‘We wouldn’t recommend that our clients invest in set-piece events or

lavish dinners at party conferences,’ says Cole. ‘Nor would we say that

giving money to Labour funds is always the best tactic, although some

firms are doing just that, either by switching money away from Tory

Party funds or by giving to both.



‘What all of us want to avoid is an investment pause if and when Labour

gets in, while companies wait to see what policies emerge. Although it

isn’t possible to get all the answers about Labour policy before the

election, a face-to-face talk could remove much of the uncertainty and

smooth the early days of a Labour administration.’



He adds: ‘The business community is naturally cautious about change, but

it is important to remember that Labour is just as keen to open up a

dialogue with businesses as they are to understand Labour’s thinking.’



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