I took part in an event last week, organised by the excellent Institute of Ideas. Do please check them out.
The event discussed the proposition “Lobbyists: The New Hidden Persuaders”. As it happens, every member of the panel was a lobbyist of sorts, but that didn’t stop a healthy discussion. I was set next to the impressive Linda Butcher, Chief Executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, which provides support for campaign organisations.
Linda set about developing an argument that I now find very familiar. Basically corporate lobbying = bad; charity lobbying = good. The justification is that corporates exist for private benefit, charities for public benefit. It sounds very logical that lobbying to advance private benefit must be bad and lobbying for public benefit must be good.
However, it is a very small step from there to argue that everything that corporates do, because it is for private benefit, must be wrong; and anything done by charities must similarly be right. Such an argument is obviously nonsense.
Indeed my good friend Paul Flynn MP would be one of the first to point out that some charities exist to push pretty limited private interests, while still passing the “public benefit” test. That obviously includes private schools. But it also includes some medical charities which are, in essence, front organisations to promote the agenda of a particular drugs company.
For me, good lobbying is lobbying done well, professionally and subject to a sensible Code of Conduct. Bad lobbying is everything else. Plain and simple. And in my experience, there is a lot of very bad lobbying done by charities. It is of course, precisely for that reason that the Sheila McKechnie Foundation exists – to improve the quality of lobbying by campaign groups. I, for one, am very happy to support that.