Corbyn, Labour and public opinion can break down the secret world of lobbying
Tamasin Cave’s article – which may be read here – ends:
The UK’s commercial lobbying industry expanded beyond the back streets of Westminster to become an estimated £2 billion industry today, the third largest in the world. For decades, undisturbed, it has helped business influence the decisions of government.
Except glitches are now starting to appear in this system.
- Fewer messages are landing with the public (see the campaigns for HS2 and fracking).
- The power of the press to influence opinion is far from broken, but it has been shaken by scandal and an apparent tin ear for public opinion.
- The recent downfall of the most notorious of London’s lobby shops, Bell Pottinger, brought about by its secret campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa, is a symbolic victory too. For decades, it laundered the reputations of some profoundly anti-democratic clients around the world.
- The current Labour leadership is also a disrupting force.
Lobbyists, whose business relies to a large extent on relationships – often built over years, or shortcut by hiring former colleagues of the target politician – didn’t bother with Corbyn. They are now. Don’t misunderstand me: there are legions of corporate persuaders with links to the Labour Party and some industries – property developers, the for-profit healthcare industry, nuclear power – appear as if embedded in it.
But, in the words of one industry insider, lobbyists with strong links to Team Corbyn “can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and you might still have five fingers spare”.
Perhaps the most powerful change, however, is the demonstration of how things can be different. The World Transformed in Brighton last month was a place to participate in policy debates, which was open to all. The Institute for Free Trade, by contrast, is a women-free zone, funded by hidden corporate backers, which presented a persuasion campaign as its response to public dissatisfaction with the form of capitalism currently on offer.
The UK needs to open up the activities of lobbyists to public scrutiny as a matter of urgency. As important, though, is showing that an alternative exists to the “cosy club at the top”.
Tamasin Cave is a lobbyist for the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, a campaigner with Spinwatch and co-author of A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain (Vintage, 2015)