Mark Twigg, Cicero Consulting: No longer just the dark arts

Lobbyists are now in the creativity business as clients look to make positive contributions.

Now we have moved beyond the mud-slinging of the recent local government elections and the doomed AV referendum, politics as usual can resume.

As a financial sector lobbyist, this means clearing up the mess left by the financial crisis. In clearing up this mess, everything we do must stand the test of public scrutiny. One day all in-house lobbyists, the third sector and law firms must accept the same degree of scrutiny. For instance, it is absurd that any lobbyist should ever be allowed to employ parliamentarians or hold a parliamentary pass.

A level and transparent playing field between all lobbyist and pressure groups would be a worthwhile legacy for the coalition Government.

And what about its legacy on financial market reforms? The coalition Government has kick-started important changes in this area. The Vickers review of the UK banking system will report in September, while legislation on structural changes to the Financial Services Authority will be forthcoming in the next year.

But policymaking is becoming ever more global in response to the financial crisis. Even before the crisis, 80 per cent of UK financial regulation was developed somewhere else, largely in Brussels. Since 2008, the expanded G20 and the reconfigured Financial Stability Board, along with the World Bank, IMF, the OECD and regional blocs including the EU and ASEAN, have stolen a march in developing policy.

But while policymaking may be global, the politics remains local. The perfect storm created by a UK banking collapse, an economic downturn and a new coalition Government has changed the rules of engagement. Pressure groups have secured widespread media success but so far have largely failed to convert column inches into policy influence. At the same time, the reputational hit on the banking sector has undermined its influence with policymakers, both in the UK and abroad.

But it is important that the sector retains a strong voice in Whitehall and finds parliamentary champions who are prepared to stand up and defend financial services. The sector provides more than one million jobs in the UK, and contributes about eight per cent of national income and provides major export earnings in the process. The time for banker bashing is over. Now is the time to build bridges with the wider array of public interests - charities and third sector groups, academics, think-tanks and the media. Which helps to explain the age old question asked of all lobbyists: 'What do you actually do?'

The popular myth is that of a master of the dark arts, selling access to their mates in the political community. But lobbying in the UK is more about ideas and creativity, and less about contacts.

UK and US corporates are more interested in the need to make a positive contribution to the public debate rather than trading on their contacts book. Building strong coalitions, often from the grassroots, is essential. Equally, thought leadership and research are an important part of the public affairs tool kit.

A lot of the tactics are the same - meeting programmes, briefings and drafting policy reports - but more and more this is underpinned by proprietary research. Equally, the use of social media is catching on, though ironically it is the risk-averse nature of marketing compliance teams within major financial institutions that is preventing corporate clients from taking this communications channel more seriously. Here, corporates could still learn a few campaign tricks from the third sector.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

If you had 15 minutes with Cameron or Clegg, who would you choose?

David Cameron. Clegg's primary role is to make the Conservative brand more respectable. Cameron could potentially leave a lasting legacy of reform.

Which bodies have emerged best from the public sector cuts debate?

Corporates that fit the Big Society mould have done well reputationally. I have been impressed by the Co-operative Bank and Metro Bank.

How has public affairs changed since the advent of the coalition?

Both politicians and lobbyists have been forced to become less tribal. Politics based on consensus has a massive impact on how lobbyists operate.

Mark Twigg is a director of Cicero Consulting

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