The poor public perception of lobbying following the ‘cash-for-
questions’ row has raised calls for state regulation of the industry.
An ICM/Guardian poll (8 October) asked voters: ‘Do lobby companies help,
harm or make little difference to the working of democracy?’.
The replies are demoralising but hardly surprising for lobbyists, in the
wake of the Greer affair. Forty-two per cent said they did harm, 42 per
cent said they made no difference and eight percent said they helped.
Clearly, this is an industry in dire need of positive PR.
‘Following Nolan we made tremendous strides to educate people about what
we do. Now it’s as if someone pressed the erase button,’ says Charles
Miller, secretary of the Association of Professional Political
Consultants (APPC) the regulatory body to which most lobbying companies
belong. ‘People want to believe we’re sleazy,’ he says. Yet Miller, who
describes lobbying as ‘the reverse of publicity’ can hardly blame the
public and media if they are suspicious of lobbyists’ subtle ways.
He concedes that the fallout from the Greer affair has precipitated
action. Next week the APPC is calling a meeting of members to ratify
proposals on professional standards, ‘so that they are seen, yes, seen,
to be the highest,’ he says.
In the short term, Miller has put the emphasis on being accessible to
the 60 or so journalists who contact the association each week with
Greer-related enquiries. ‘The priority is to ram home the ethical
message, that since Nolan, the work of lobbyists has become far more
transparent, with members now required to produce a client list,’ he
says. In addition, the APPC’s code of conduct states that no money may
be passed to MPs, and no MPs should sit on clients’ boards,’ he adds.
It is significant, claims Michael Burrell, managing director of
Westminster Strategy, that the Greer allegations predate the
establishment of the APPC. ‘We have already changed the climate,’ he
says. In pitches, blue-chip clients are now careful to accept proposals
only from APPC members.
‘Nevertheless,’ says Burrell, ‘Parliament must regulate MPs’
relationships with lobbyists and set up a legislative system of its
Michael Craven, managing director of Market Access International,
agrees. ‘If a Greer incident surfaced today,’ he says, ‘the APPC
wouldn’t have the resources to investigate, so the only answer is to
have some form of state regulations, as they do in the USA, regulated by
His firm’s work for the US defence industry means the US government can
investigate Craven’s books at any time, access which the House does not
‘Nolan rejected that because he was concerned it would simply be a badge
of respectability which was hard to police. That’s a small price to
pay,’ says Craven. ‘We desperately need good PR and the way to get it is
by being as transparent as possible about the job we do.’
But what are the parameters of that job? Until the nature of the lobby
industry and its boundaries are codified, then all lobbyists have a
serious problem, claims Sir Bernard Ingham. ‘Even when they have a bunch
of rules which they all subscribe to, they’ve still the problem of
persuading people of the legitimacy of what they do. If APPC fails to
take the initiative, defining and prescribing rules, legislation will
fill the vacuum and that has to be regrettable,’ says Ingham.
Meanwhile, the Greer affair will do little to dent the burgeoning volume
of lobbying which goes on. Among MPs at this month’s party conferences,
Michael Burrell encountered only positive feedback. ‘They [MPs] much
prefer to receive a brief, cogent paper, than piles of documents from
people who don’t know how to present a case.’
According to the Guardian’s ICM poll however, the case for lobbying
itself has a long way to go.