Editorial: Lobbying laws can no longer be put off

In the wake of Derek Draper’s much publicised demise as Express columnist and potential lobbyist, Liberal Democrat peer and Shandwick vice-chairman Tom McNally has called for the APPC, IPR and PRCA to establish a system for jointly policing standards, supervised by someone outside the lobbying industry such as a QC.

In the wake of Derek Draper’s much publicised demise as Express

columnist and potential lobbyist, Liberal Democrat peer and Shandwick

vice-chairman Tom McNally has called for the APPC, IPR and PRCA to

establish a system for jointly policing standards, supervised by someone

outside the lobbying industry such as a QC.



Currently each organisation runs separate voluntary codes, but not

through first choice. Since at least 1994 they have been calling for

Parliamentary regulation. Intent on keeping them at arm’s length,

Parliament has so far scorned the idea of policing lobbyists. But this

most recent scandal shows that Government cannot escape smear by simply

turning the other way.



Whether Parliament, the media and the public regard it as acceptable or

not, the lobbying industry is firmly entrenched in the UK’s democratic

process. The Canadian, US and European legislatures have recognised

lobbying as a legitimate feature of their own processes, and created

formal rules on access for lobbyists.



In the UK, because public affairs agencies have been forced to operate

in the shadows, with only the vaguest of guidelines on the rights and

wrongs of access, they are still ill-understood by the media and the

public.



As Howell James, a founder of PR consultancy Brown Lloyd James and

former adviser to John Major said in his keynote speech at this week’s

Hard Commercial Edge of PR conference: ’There is a long way to go to

explain the role of lobbyists and dispel the impression that there is

something malign about the industry.’



There is still a tendency for chairmen and chief executives to view the

appointment of a public affairs firm as a ’vanity purchase’ in the words

of one lobbyist. The executive wants to build up a network of political

contacts, and the lobbyist is duly despatched to secure an adequate

supply of champagne and politicians.



In this context the kind of bragging that has scuppered Draper’s career

becomes a central sales tactic. Agencies have a choice between remaining

poor and virtuous or trading on contacts. To their credit, many back up

their talk with reliable political analysis and sound strategic

advice.



There is an urgent need to educate clients and staff about the

fundamental role of the lobbyist and the ethical standards incumbent on

the industry.



This could be in part achieved through a set of clear guidelines on

access to Parliament, policed by MPs themselves or at the very least an

independent authority as McNally suggests. If the lobbying industry is

treated as a legitimate part of our democracy, it may begin to behave

like one.



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