Now those same campaigners are being invited into the Cabinet Office for a cosy chat with the minister in charge of regulating the industry.
The news that Tom Watson is finally meeting the ALT comes a week after PRWeek revealed the Government is considering using the Constitutional Renewal Bill to crack down on lobbyists. A spot of public lobbying on Twitter may have forced the minister’s hand in meeting the campaigners. Nevertheless, this is the latest development in a story that looks almost certain to end in a significant overhaul of the current arrangements.
The fact that there is scant evidence of lobbyists misbehaving is now beside the point. Public affairs agencies should get used to the idea that they will soon have to reveal all their clients in some kind of register. For some agencies this could be embarrassing, as well as bad for business, but senior politicians appear to have made up their minds. Even if Gordon Brown doesn’t change the system, chances are David Cameron will. There are no votes to be gained from being kind to lobbyists. Yet there is still all to play for. Next week, the ALT will try to convince the minister that any register must include full disclosure of fees. It will also argue for recordings of all meetings between lobbyists and elected members, officials and ministers to be made public.
These developments could seriously damage the public affairs industry, but Watson is yet to be convinced to go down this route. And lobbyists have powerful arguments on their side. There is the crucial point that MPs and officials could be dissuaded from holding vital meetings if they know the details will soon be made public.
It may be round one to the ALT, but if lobbyists work with the Government they can still shape the detail of any impending regulation. A knockout blow is by no means inevitable.
Danny Rogers is away