The Andrew Werritty / Liam Fox affair has re-ignited the debate over the power and influence of ‘lobbyists’. But, as with so much in the world of politics and communications, the distinction between right and wrong is difficult to pin down.
Malign power of men who peddle influence
Screamed the Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce in a comment piece calling for lobbyists to be hung, drawn and quartered immediately (well, near enough). The Sunday Telegraph was more restrained, simply suggesting that David Cameron needs to heed the long-standing calls of the Lib Dems to regulate the lobbying industry.
There are clearly extremes of lobbying from a professional viewpoint – such as that exposed by the Fox affair. Or the dubious ‘leaders dinners’ which politicians seem to enjoy hosting and act as the equivalent of a cash for access merry-go-round (worth noting even ‘Saint’ Nick offers these meetings).
There are also extremes from an ethical point of view. Lobbying for the tobacco industry is still a huge earner for some PR firms. Yet the most extreme example is from 2003, where one lobbying firm actually won an industry award for helping to get a country invaded and a government overthrown.
Whatever you think of the Iraq war, surely trying to engineer a war costing thousands of lives is a step too far – even for lobbyists?
But for every war monger and peddler of tobacco, there are those using lobbying tactics to be a force for good.
From Joanna Lumley’s Gurkha’s campaign, to the efforts to stop the sale of our forests, lobbying tactics have been used to positive effect. (Disclaimer: in the case of calling for reform to the education system or current Grey Pride activity, I’ve also used them).
And during the recent debate over News International’s bid to buy BSkyB, lobbying was used on both sides of the debate. News International‘s was fairly crude and unrelenting – as correspondence released by the government shows.
But on the other side of the fence, not only did anti-News International groups, such as 38 degrees, use lobbying (or as they would say ‘campaigning’) tactics, but all other participants in the debate were advised by public affairs agencies, ‘corporate affairs’ specialists or in house teams.
And what Andrew Pierce fails to mention in his anti-lobbying rant is that his own employers Daily Mail General Trust currently use Finsbury for their public affairs work (an agency which also incidentally works for Sky)!
So, by all means regulate and curb the excesses of lobbyists and cash for access, but don’t forget that lobbying can be a force for good.
How you define ‘good’, however, is always going to be a matter of opinion…