The usually meticulous James Forsyth published a strangely incoherent article in the Spectator this week, which condemned lobbying simultaneously for being “a cancer on the body politic” and “a massive ruse at the expense of the lobbyists’ clients”. His article is on the Spectator website:
The article highlights a common dilemma for the critics of lobbying, who wish to argue both that lobbying is all powerful but, worried that they simply push willing new clients in the direction of lobbying companies, try to question their supposed effectiveness.
Some lobbyists, desparate to boost earnings in these difficult economic times, themselves overclaim their importance and influence in the political sysytem. This was of course the height of Derek Draper’s folly in the lobbying scandal that he caused.
I am afraid that the reality, like so much in life, is much more mundane. Helping the organisations they work for to present their case effectively – it is important to remember that lobbyists can be employed either ”in-house” or in a consultancy – is a perfectly respectable activity. If any influence is achieved over the policy process, it is because lobbyists make an effective point that policy makers have previously overlooked. And thank goodness they do – there are complaints enough about the burden of regulation on us without it being designed regardless of the comments of those it will impact.
It is about time that more of us recognised the value of lobbying on our democracy and stood up to point it out.
For the record, I have written to the Spectator in response to their article. I reproduce my letter below. Time will tell if they publish it.
James Forsyth’s article “Liam Fox is not the only politician to become entangled in the lobbyist’s web” was a fascinating insight into the minds of those who fail to understand the lobbying profession.
Apparently “lobbyists for special interests are a cancer on the body politic. They distort our democracy, skewing it in favour of those who can afford their services.” I could almost sense the nodding heads of his readers.
But hang on a moment. Read on and he argues, “all of this is, in many ways, a massive ruse at the expense of the lobbyists’ clients. They end up picking up the tab for drinks and dinner for people who just pretend to listen to them.”
So do lobbyists “distort our democracy” or is it all “a massive ruse at the expense of the lobbyists’ clients”. Clearly both positions cannot be right. In my view, neither are. The right to lobby was set out in the Magna Carta and is an important cornerstone of our democracy.
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