Lobbyists in frantic bid to save reputation of public affairs industry

Industry figures in media offensive as lobbying caught up in negative headlines.

Undercover sting: Byers among MPs exposed
Undercover sting: Byers among MPs exposed

Public affairs practitioners launched an impromptu PR offensive this week as Westminster was rocked by claims of lobbying by senior Labour MPs.

Leading lobbyists took to the airwaves to defend the reputation of the public affairs industry after the expose by reporters posing as a fake lobbying firm for Monday's Dispatches programme.

Leading the charge was former CIPR president Lionel Zetter and College Public Policy managing partner Warwick Smith, who drafted a series of 'key media lines' (see box) for those discussing the revelations by Channel 4 and The Sunday Times.

However, the media offensive was not centrally co-ordinated, provoking criticism from one senior lobbyist.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle said: 'Those of us in the public affairs industry need to go on to the front foot and remind politicians, journalists and our critics that what we do is fundamental to the health of the body politic ... Where has the APPC (Association of Professional Political Consultants) been? Perhaps I missed it.'

Bingle claimed he had turned down media requests himself as he preferred to see industry representatives making the argument.

But APPC chair Robbie MacDuff emphasised that the association was 'a self-regulatory body, not a representative body'. He added that should the industry succeed in its plans to set up a 'public affairs council', this would then speak for all lobbyists.

This week, Smith appeared on Radio Five Live, BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Three Counties Radio. Meanwhile, Zetter appeared live on BBC News 24, BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Radio Scotland. Other lobbyists to hit the airwaves included Insight Public Affairs account director Chris West on BBC Radio Scotland.

 

SMITH'S KEY POINTS

- This is not about lobbyists; none were involved.

- It is about politicians doing things for which they were not elected

- You can be a lobbyist or a legislator, but not both

- It is frustrating that politicians are proposing tougher regulation of the industry when this issue is all about them, and the UK industry has put its house in order.

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