Lobbying: New Labour, new ways of lobbying - Just as last week’s general election radically altered the political landscape, so it will usher in a new style of lobbying more suited to the times

The BBC’s swingometer was not prepared for the size of the Labour swing on election night. As Peter Snow ran frantically from side to side, pictures flashed on TV screens of fresh-faced Labour twenty-somethings clearly stunned that they had just become Members of Parliament.

The BBC’s swingometer was not prepared for the size of the Labour

swing on election night. As Peter Snow ran frantically from side to

side, pictures flashed on TV screens of fresh-faced Labour

twenty-somethings clearly stunned that they had just become Members of

Parliament.



Those new MPs must now prepare themselves for initiation not just into

the Parliamentary process, but also into the wily art of lobbying. Very

soon, like rabbits caught in headlights, they will be subject to the

full glare of the professional lobbyists.



The lobbying industry is already undergoing a sea-change and one of the

main implications of the ’sleaze’ fall-out is that it must clean up its

own image. According to Michael Burrell, managing director of one of the

UK’s leading lobbying firms Westminster Strategy: ’We as an industry

have got a huge job to do. There is a huge number of new MPs whose

perception of our industry has largely been formed by the media and is

therefore fairly negative.’



Political journalist and author Andrew Roth goes further. He predicts

that old style lobbying using a network of contacts and backhanders to

buy favours for clients is over.



The new Labour Government is keen to be seen as squeaky clean and

incorruptible and will distance itself from any suspect lobbying

activities. However, despite talk of a statutory register of lobbyists,

this now looks unlikely, according to Rory Chisholm, a director at GJW

Government Relations.



Nevertheless, one of the most important factors affecting lobbying is

not so much the Labour victory itself, as the size of the Labour

majority of 179. According to Charles Miller, secretary of the

Association of Professional Political Consultants: ’When governments

have large majorities they don’t pay much attention to Parliament, they

just whip things through.’



As Leighton Andrews of Political Context observes, this means lobbyists

will need to focus more on Whitehall than on Parliament.



It is widely believed that a whole new climate of open government is

about to sweep over Westminster and Whitehall and lobbyists who want to

survive will have to adapt. Not only have some well-established figures

- cabinet ministers among them - disappeared, but the composition of

Parliament is younger and there are more female MPs. New relationships

will have to be forged. More importantly, the emphasis in future will be

on providing strategic advice. As Colin Byrne, head of Shandwick Public

Affairs and an adviser to the Labour campaign, predicts: ’Consultants

will have to provide a deeper understanding of policies and what is

driving them, than perhaps the industry has been used to. Clients will

expect added value in terms of understanding strategy, rather than just

the cocktail party circuit and throwing money at corporate

hospitality.’



Lobbying will become more the art of giving clients the information and

strategy they need to lobby MPs - and civil servants themselves. Some

companies already adopt this new approach, but it will become

increasingly essential to do so.



’Understanding the system will become a priority. PR people will have to

become policy specialists. There will be far less scope to politicise

issues,’ suggests Miller.



Nevertheless senior figures in the industry have been talking excitedly

about the months ahead and about the structural and the likely

legislative changes. Many of the Labour Party’s proposals were light on

detail, clients will therefore be desperate to know just how they will

be affected. For instance, even though the windfall tax is now a

foregone conclusion, there is still much to play for in terms of how it

will be implemented and who will be affected.



Another area of concern is Labour’s plans to introduce a competition

bill that would bring the UK in line with the European approach.



Other areas where industry experts expect to see frenetic lobbying

activity include the adoption of the European Social Chapter, the

minimum wage, Scottish devolution, changes to the government of London,

the Private Finance Initiative and the implications of Labour’s tax

plans.



While some predict a massive flood of new business and repitches, others

caution clients to hang fire until things have settled down. ’At the

moment everyone is promising everything but ministers won’t be

interested - they are still trying to find their offices,’ says one

in-house public affairs manager.



Undoubtably these are early days with even the structure of government

departments changing.



Steve Bramall, a director of the Waterfront Partnership which

specialises in transport issues, says the implications of the new ’super

ministry’ set up under deputy leader John Prescott to deal with

transport, the environment, and regional and local government are still

uncertain.



Industry expectation about the role of special advisers is more

certain.



As Miller explains: ’The role and structure of special advisers won’t

change. There will be no more than one or two jobs for every

department.



It will be a while before we get Brussels-style cabinets.’ However, he

adds: ’The former special advisers will become a premium commodity.’



Former MPs may also be looking for work, but according to Bramall: ’They

have to bring something to a consultancy or to clients that provides

added value. Just because they are ex-MPs does not mean they will get

jobs.’



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