ANALYSIS: LOBBYING; Should PR maintain a diplomatic silence?

Lobbying for foreign governments, especially those at odds with the rest of the international community, arouses suspicion. Some believe it is time for Parliament to put its foot down

Lobbying for foreign governments, especially those at odds with the rest

of the international community, arouses suspicion. Some believe it is

time for Parliament to put its foot down

Last week’s revelation that GJW is working for the Libyan government (PR

Week, 18 October) brought a response from the Times which described the

firm’s work as ‘image building’ for Libya’s leader Colonel Gadaffi.

GJW responded in a letter to the Times stressing it is not working to

improve Gadaffi’s image and its work is focused with the British-Libyan

Business Group - funded by a number of UK companies engaged in trade

with Libya.

Adding that its monitoring contract with the Libyan authorities ‘is

subsidiary to this’, the firm’s chief executive Andrew Gifford

continued: ‘We were previously involved in a similar campaign on behalf

of British interests affected in Cuba, and following discussion with the

Department of Trade and Industry we have been working to monitor the

development of these issues for the Libyan Foreign Ministry.’

But this does not explain why the contract with the Libyan government

was only revealed some time after the firm’s directors first spoke to

both PR Week and the Times about its work for the business group.

Neither does it explain why that contract was set up in the name of an

Arab bank, which Gifford refuses to name.

The impression created is that GJW would rather this particular account

had not been made public, even though it is breaking no sanctions by

taking on the work. Its case has not been helped by that fact that at

least two other lobby firms were approached by the Libyans and, for

ethical reasons, turned them down.

Britain severed diplomatic relations with Libya in 1985 after the murder

of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London. Its unwillingness to hand over

suspects in the Lockerbie bombing and alleged support for other acts of

international terrorism has demonised it in the eyes of western

governments. UN sanctions have turned it into a pariah state.

GJW’s directors made their own moral judgement on lobbying for Libya and

found it acceptable. A six-figure fee may have helped. Others that were

contacted, Westminster Communications among them, took the contrary


‘We’ve agreed that we won’t work for oppressive regimes or countries and

companies whose activities we find abhorrent,’ says Westminster

Communications director Warwick Smith.

‘I certainly wouldn’t work for Libya or Gadaffi,’ adds Shandwick

Consultants vice-chairman Lord McNally, whose clients include the

governments of Cyprus, Bahrain and the Falkland Islands. ‘I honestly

think this is another scandal waiting to happen.

‘It is perfectly legitimate for foreign governments or agencies of

foreign governments to have British consultancies to put their case. But

it needs to be transparent. If foreign governments are able to spend

huge sums of money trying to influence British politicians, the public

has a right to know.’

McNally believes the UK should introduce legislation similar to that in

the US, where it is a criminal offence to lobby for a foreign government

without declaring it. He believes a register of lobbyists and their

overseas government and quasi-government clients should be administered

by Parliament. Lowe Bell chairman Sir Tim Bell strongly disagrees.

‘Some people steeped in the socialist past think everything should be

controlled by the state. I’m a Conservative and believe in individual

responsibility. I believe people are innately good and need to be


Bell argues that as most lobbying is carried out by merchant banks,

lawyers and accountants who are under no obligation to disclose their

clients, why should lobbyists? When Lowe Bell’s services are sought by

a government, it canvasses the Foreign Office view on whether working

for it would be frowned upon. Such self-censorship should be sufficient,

reasons Bell.

But there is no doubt that contracts of this kind are controversial. One

only has to think back to the furore over the campaign Hill and Knowlton

carried out in the US for the exiled government of Kuwait before the

Gulf War. The consultancy was accused of coaching witnesses to alleged

Iraqi atrocities whose testimony played a part in the unleashing of

operation Desert Storm.

In Europe today H&K is working for Turkey, ‘helping them communicate

with certain members of Parliament to understand their case with regard

to [EU] customs union,’ says managing director corporate policy and

public affairs Edward Bickham.

Turkey, as a staunch ally of the West, is no world pariah. Yet with its

poor human rights record and problems such as Cyprus to contend with,

lobbying on its behalf needs to be undertaken with some delicacy.

Bickham, a former diplomat, sees lobbying of this sort as an extension

of diplomacy.

‘In years gone by diplomacy was conducted in a relatively enclosed

world. Supporting diplomatic effort with communications is more

important now because diplomacy is largely conducted in a more open


Lobbying for foreign governments needs to be differentiated from image-

building. Understandably, the public sees something sinister in another

state - especially one at odds with the international community -

trying to influence British politicians. Even when it is entirely above


Iran and Nigeria are both understood to have looked for lobbying support

in the UK. There is nothing to stop British consultancies working for

them, save their consciences and a fear of how their clients would

react. And they need not announce the fact either. It’s a sobering


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in