Danny Rogers: Lobbyists are at the mercy of stings

David Cameron's prophecy, months before taking over as Prime Minister, that 'secret corporate lobbying' was the 'next big scandal waiting to happen' has proven not only prescient, but possibly self-fulfilling.

Danny Rogers: Lobbyists are at the mercy of stings
Danny Rogers: Lobbyists are at the mercy of stings

The British media, cowed and cautious under the weight of the Leveson Inquiry, seem to have acknowledged that stings in this area are an easy win. Too easy.

From The Guardian's pursuit of the Adam Werritty/Liam Fox affair, and The Independent's sting on Bell Pottinger, to this week's Sunday Times 'cash for access' expose, lobbying is being turned over more regularly than ever.

Of course, the difference in the latest case is that the catalyst was a professional lobbyist himself. Mark Adams, formerly of Lansons and now running his own operation, was the person who tipped off The Sunday Times. This was another game changer.

This week the public affairs industry, which one doesn't doubt is largely ethical, leapt to its own defence, claiming - with some justification - that this isn't actually a scandal of lobbying but one of political party funding.

After all, the main protagonist was Peter Cruddas, (now former) co-treasurer of the Tory party. Adams even had his own column within The Sunday Times scoop, in which he argued that the political establishment was 'rotten', not the business of lobbying.

Unfortunately, this point of order is not going to lessen the scrutiny on lobbyists one iota.

The drive for a strict register of lobbyists, presently in parliamentary consultation phase, is gaining momentum by the day, with some even within the profession now calling for it to be broader and deeper than first envisaged.

This is partly because they rightly want in-house public affairs functions and management consultants or lawyers to come under any register, and partly because the fundamental balance of power has shifted.

This administration - never inherently supportive of such legislation - is under intense pressure to clamp down heavily on the public affairs industry. And a growing number feel that only a rigorous statutory register will be able to relieve this scrutiny and secure their livelihoods.

Until this issue is resolved, we can expect more stings and more opprobrium for the public affairs business.

In the meantime, lobbyists are advised to be ethical and open at all times: not least because the chances of that 'new client' actually being an investigative journalist - with a camera in that innocent-looking briefcase - are now significantly higher.

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