Why we need for a compulsory register of lobbyists

It's time for a compulsory register of lobbyists, especially with so many incoming Tory MPs and current Tory peers involved in the lobbying industry.

Our guest writer is Tamasin Cave, of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency

“I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics” – so said David Cameron, just last month, in a call for the “light of transparency” to be shone on lobbying, adding: “We don’t know who is meeting whom. We don’t know whether any favours are being exchanged. We don’t know which outside interests are wielding unhealthy influence.”

Yet, as the Observer reveals this weekend, some of his party’s current crop of prospective MPs are hiding their links to the lobbying industry from voters. Today, 38 Degrees, has teamed up with the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency to launch a campaign for lobbying transparency – targeting the prospective MPs revealed in the Observer investigation.

Take Cameron’s former press secretary, George Eustice, standing in the Cornish three-way marginal of Camborne and Redruth. Mr Eustice’s campaign website talks in detail about his parents’ farm (in his constituency), which has “a farm shop providing quality local produce” and “a herd of British Lop pigs – a rare breed native to Cornwall”.

It fails to mention, however, his current job as a lobbyist for a large consultancy that lobbies for, among others, supermarket giants Tesco and Morrisons. “There are lots of things that you don’t mention,” he says by way of explanation.

Another is Priti Patel, Conservative party candidate for the notionally Tory seat of Witham in Essex. She claims that her experience outside politics means she has “an innate understanding about the issues faced by small businesses”. Like Mr Eustice, she doesn’t disclose that her current employer is the UK’s leading public affairs (aka lobbying) firm, where her clients include a bankers’ lobby group.

Parliamentary candidates working as lobbyists aren’t confined to the Conservative party, but they do make up the majority. Lobbying firms hire parliamentary hopefuls not only to open doors now, but also to secure a direct line to any future government. It makes sense then that Conservative candidates would be more sought after than their rivals. Ms Patel, for example, is described by her employers as “a great hire… powerfully connected within Cameron’s Conservatives”.

The issue of secretive lobbying among Tories isn’t just confined to Parliamentary candidates either. Conservative peers Lords Bell and Chadlington both head up lobbying firms that refuse to disclose their clients. Lord Bell’s firm, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, says the public has “no right to know” who it is lobbying for. Lord Chadlington’s firm, Quiller, puts it rather more politely; “we understand the importance of discretion,” it says.

Then there are the many former MPs that now work in the influence industry, who still have access to the House of Commons, as the Sunday Times revealed last weekend. Again, the majority of them are ex-Conservative MPs. Put in this light, Mr Cameron’s pledge last month to be the party that “sorts all this out”, makes sense. Secretive lobbying, at the moment, is predominantly a Conservative affair.

What neither of the main parties has done though is to support the one concrete solution to an opaque influence industry: a compulsory register of lobbyists. This would require all lobbyists to make public who they are, who they are lobbying for and which areas of public life they are seeking to influence. A register would provide the much needed public scrutiny of who has the ear of this or any future government.

All of which is why 38 Degrees is supporting the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency’s campaign for a compulsory register. Take action now by emailing your parliamentary candidate, whether they’re involved in lobbying or not, to press them to pledge their support for new transparency rules for lobbyists.

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