Two years ago the initial ‘cash for questions’ row led to the formation
of the Nolan Committee and the appointment of Sir Gordon Downey as its
chief of police. As far as the reputation of Parliament is concerned,
this mechanism now faces what committee member Tom King has called ‘its
first massive test’.
As Parliament frets over how to cope with the latest sleazy assault on
its reputation, the lobbying fraternity is conducting its own soul
searching exercise. On the other side of the Westminster fence, the
Association of Professional Political Consultants, also sprang into
being from the last round of sleaze. It, too, is facing its first
Unfortunately, it is likely to be found wanting. This is not because it
has been set up misguidedly, nor because it has adopted the wrong rules,
nor because lobbyists do not want to restore the reputation of their
business -they urgently do. The reason it is likely to be found wanting
is because of a far wider problem within the lobbying and PR industries:
a lack of trust and co-operation.
To its credit, the APPC is examining all the options available. The PRCA
and IPR are equally assiduous at trying to put the industry’s house in
order. But when the overall atmosphere in the industry is one of mutual
distrust, is it any wonder that its most intractable problems languish
In this week’s feature, Peter Gummer spells out the problem. We all know
the big issues that face the industry - training and recruitment,
evaluation, and regulation. According to Gummer, the solution to most of
these problems is within the industry’s grasp: ‘But it involves the one
thing you don’t have in public relations. It involves co-operation.
‘The things that have gone well in the industry have been driven by
external events,’ says Gummer. ‘The things that have gone badly are the
things that we should have done ourselves.’
The issue of self-regulation is a good example. Any industry body
tackling this obviously needs to reach critical mass of membership which
will make its sanctions meaningful. But there should also be a
registration scheme, and clients should be encouraged only to employ
registered practitioners and consultants. Yet these ideas, first mooted
nearly 20 years ago, have got nowhere.
The industry also needs champions to speak out loudly, and publicly, on
all matters which affect its reputation. Yet when the proverbial hits
the fan, its leading lights tend to keep their heads down - for fear of
getting it shot off by their own side, let alone outside critics.