Greig Baker: Money and politics don’t mix. Someone should tell Westminster

Written by Greig Baker on 4 December 2014 in Opinion

The latest sales pitch from Labour reflects a very old fashioned view of the lobbying industry

You know you’ve been in public affairs for a long time when MPs seem to be getting younger, manifestos seem to be getting vaguer and political parties seem to start fundraising earlier. That’s all par for the course, but there was anger in the Guide office when Labour got in touch offering to “work with our clients” in return for sponsorship and even to help us identify “commercial transactions that do not constitute a donation under PPERA”.

The industry has taken a bit of a battering over the past couple of years, with accusations of cash for access, foul play and murky dealings. As a result, the Government created the Office of the Lobbying Registrar, and Alison White is consulting on new rules for the industry even as you read this. The politics of this is understandable, but it’s worth remembering that in nearly all of the recent “lobbying” scandals there wasn’t actually a professional lobbyist in the room – just a bent MP and a journalist posing as someone from the industry.

Guide is a proud member of the APPC, which is promoting transparency and high standards, and we are supporting the Registrar in her work, too. We are keen to explain exactly what public affairs is – or, at least, what it should be.

It is estimated that 3,500 new laws are introduced by Parliament every year – and there are only 650 MPs to scrutinise them. We provide political intelligence to our clients, together with advice on the legislative process, so that they can give lawmakers the right information at the right time to make informed decisions. We very rarely make direct representations on anyone’s behalf – it’s more a case of professional geekery than cash for access.

The sales pitch to Guide from Labour – and we had similar pitches from other parties – reflects a very old fashioned view of the lobbying industry. That tap-the-side-of-your-nose approach can still be found in some consultancies (we always despair at the rush to hire former bag carriers from a party on the up, for example), but thankfully, it is becoming as outdated as it is ineffective.

Modern consultancies get this and, to be fair, most senior MPs do, too. When PAN published the story about Labour’s email to us, a number of friends in the Shadow Cabinet got in touch despairing at the “idiots” in the party’s commercial team – they want to debunk the myth that public affairs is about long lunches and black books as much as we do.

There’s a big question as to whether or not party conferences are worth the money for in-house teams (in the majority of cases, we think not), but our gripe with the sales pitch we received isn’t about that. It’s more that some people in Westminster are perpetuating an unfair, inaccurate and archaic image of public affairs.

There may be a touch of grumpy old man syndrome in moaning about the youth of MPs or the banality of election platforms, but when it comes to the industry’s reputation, we are very optimistic about the future. We just need to keep stressing why public affairs is a good thing.
 

About the author

Greig Baker is managing director of Guide Public Affairs

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