Lobbying is a sensitive issue at the moment. The leadership of both parties will, I’m almost certain, bring in a statutory register fairly soon. I have no problem with that and, at least in terms of the people from the industry I speak to regularly, no-one else seems to be particularly worried about it. Because by and large public affairs practitioners work to a high standard of ethical behaviour.
Being on a list will make no difference to the way I do my job. I talk to clients. Together we work out what they want to achieve and what’s possible. I think about what they need from Whitehall and Westminster to complete the mission, and who might be interested in what they have to say. I build a case and they then make the approaches. Of course that’s not the half of it – but in a nutshell our job is to make the best possible case, and have enough expert knowledge about how Parliament and Whitehall works to make the activity targeted, timely and relevant, so that clients who aren’t close to Westminster, or the EU, aren’t just punting information out randomly and getting nowhere.
Andrew Pierce wrote quite a compelling piece in the Daily Mail this week demonising the work we do, but I think also fundamentally missing the point about a huge swathe of good, ethical, well delivered activity. Would you complain about AgeUK doing great work to raise issues on behalf of older people in Parliament? Would you deny the right of the RCN or the BMA to seek to make changes to the Health and Social Care Bill that could improve it? Why shouldn’t the banking sector have a route into the Treasury, to bring the sector’s perspectives to decisions being made there?
If the problem is with the agencies that do public affairs, well again… why? If you have no regular need for an in-house public affairs team, but occassionally need advice on campaigning or arms-and-legs for delivery, why shouldn’t you be able to hire in ethical expertise on how to nagivate in Parliament? Beats me. Because that is public affairs in the UK today.
The likes of Adam Werritty don’t do public affairs. I can’t explain what his role was really – but I can understand the concern. But I don’t know any agency people who would feel comfortable with that level of proximity to a minister. Most would certainly know that they were falling foul of APPC or CIPR rules, and none would ever produce a business card with the Portcullis on it.
Pierce makes the point that Party Conferences wouldn’t happen without the money organisations with a political interest bring in. I think he’s right on that and it’s probably a subject for another blog post. He thinks that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a really good thing and I know think tanks who can operate and develop policy and thinking purely because they have a forward thinking sponsor organisation. Not everyone’s ethics are suspect – there is a lot of good going on out there and we shouldn’t forget that.