Let not your judgment be clouded by the devious methods once employed by
the Guardian - a ‘codfax’, to be precise - to further its holy war
against political ‘sleaze’. Forget that the same newspaper, in pursuing
the Neil Hamiltons and Ian Greers of this world with Taliban-type
zealotry, is apparently willingly dancing to the tune of a frustrated Mr
al Fayed, of Harrods.
Ignore the extent of lobbyist Mr Greer’s largesse across the political
parties and how some of their leaders may, unwittingly, of course, have
benefited. Do not be swayed by Labour leader Tony Blair’s hypocrisy in
distancing his party from Ian Greer Associates, even to the extent of
forcing the resignation of non-executive director Lady Turner as
Labour’s employment spokesman in the Lords, while merely frowning over
Mr Greer’s election contributions to Labour’s shadow health spokesman,
Chris Smith, and Parliamentary Labour Party chairman, Doug Hoyle.
Instead, let us recognise that the whole business of lobbying - of
making a point in the nation’s legislature - is under a cloud. It is
naive to suppose that the Guardian - or any other newspaper or current
affairs TV programme - will be satisfied with Mr Hamilton MP and Mr
Greer. It may serve the Guardian’s purposes to be making life hell for
the Tories now. But, take it from me, all lobbyists’ and PR companies’
relationships with politicians are now under scrutiny. It would be a
great coup to twist the knife, especially to plunge it into Labour’s
sanctimonious bosom. That is what journalism is about. ‘Sleaze’ is the
It may be conspiracy theory gone mad. It may be that we should all
press immediately for a register of journalists’ interests so that we
can see where they are coming from. But have no doubt that, in this age
of suspicion, the PR industry will have to rethink its methods.
Otherwise we may find the media mullahs declaring all kinds of fatwahs
against us. Don’t forget that they have already harried Parliament into
abandoning its self-regulation.
The first thing we have to do is to establish the legitimacy of
lobbying. Dammit, what is the central lobby of the Palace of Westminster
for if not to buttonhole our legislators? Then we must, in our own
interests, be far clearer than the Government or any party is at present
where the boundaries to acceptable lobbying lie. Is any payment to an MP
in cash or in kind ‘illegitimate’ even for the investment of hours in
mastering a brief and, for example, preserving the competitive position
of an industry and thousands of jobs against the ravages of Brussels?
What, for example, is the future of the business lunch and dinner? I
told you the ramifications of this issue were serious.
Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express