Public affairs consultants accused of misunderstanding Lib Dems

Public affairs professionals have been accused of 'really basic' lobbying errors at last week's Liberal Democrat Party conference.

Lobbying target: Nick Clegg at conference
Lobbying target: Nick Clegg at conference

The gathering in Liverpool is thought to have attracted record numbers of lobbyists for a Lib Dem event, but Alison Goldsworthy, a member of the party’s federal executive, told PRWeek that many had not done their homework.

She said: ‘I’m amazed how many people don’t understand the relatively easy-to-get policy-making process. We elect party members who will write our manifesto to the federal policy committee, but many lobbyists didn’t understand that. It’s really basic stuff.’

The federal executive is an elected committee responsible for co-ordinating and imp­lementing the party’s work. Goldsworthy, who is Welsh party representative on the executive, added that lobbyists had failed to target the right party figures.

She said: ‘They talk to exactly the same people that they would do at Westminster. You saw the same groups of people in the bar doing the same thing. You didn’t see many people reaching out.’

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle also claimed to have detected inept lobbying at the conference. Bingle said that he spotted ‘a large number of Lib Dem conference virgins in Liverpool’.

The former Conservative councillor said he knew the lobbyists in question were unfamiliar with the Lib Dems because ‘in their conference folders they had pictures of the ministers and MPs they were going to introduce to their clients’.

Another senior public aff­airs professional, who asked not to be named, told how he had spoken to Lib Dem special advisers in Liverpool who were ‘moaning about lobbyists’.  But the public affairs consultant suggested that this reflected many Lib Dems’ lack of experience in dealing with the industry: ‘It means they don’t know how to avoid the time wasters.’

One agency boss put it more bluntly: ‘Lobbyists are a varied bunch – some are good, some are rubbish.

Labour and the Tories recognise that. The reality of the situation is this is the first time many lobbyists have bothered to talk to the Lib Dems – so it’s the first time that the Lib Dems have realised that.’

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