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
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,
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
‘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