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“Informal” lobbyists must not be exempted from new transparency rules

Author: Alexandra Runswick

Published on Mar 25, 2012

“Informal” lobbyists must not be exempted from new transparency rules

Sarah Southern spells out in no uncertain terms why we need a robust register of lobbying activity

You may not have heard of Sarah Southern.  She is a former Tory aide who, along with Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas, has been filmed by the Sunday Times (paywall) bragging about her close personal friendships with Cabinet Ministers and those working in Number 10 and how, for the right amount of money she can arrange “face time” with the Prime Minister.

In one clip she talks about the “very trustful relationship between those of us who aren’t working at Number 10 and those who do”.

I would like to think that someone who was using personal friendships for financial gain may find a less trustful relationship exists on Monday morning but I doubt it.  This is just business as usual for the lobbying industry where evidence suggests knowing a Cabinet Minister can earn you £113,000 a year.  And all too often, a current ministerial adviser is just a reshuffle away from becoming a lobbyist themselves, so it pays not to be too precious about such things.

However distasteful it might be, boasting about influential friends isn’t the shocking part of the Sarah Southern video.  She saves the best for last.  Right at the end, having outlined to people she believed were potential clients who were interested in paying £15,000 a month for her lobbying expertise, she states that although there is likely to be a lobbying register it won’t affect her because she is a “consultant” not a “formal lobbyist”.

The government is currently consulting on a statutory register of lobbyists yet someone who is happy to explain how they can influence both the Conservative Party and the civil service on behalf of clients, someone who gives examples of how they were able to craft a policy line that the Prime Minister quoted back to their client at a party conference business lunch, confidently expects not to be covered by the register.  If that is not included in the government definition then bluntly what is and is it worth the paper it’s written on?

We have a real chance to change these proposals now  but we need your help to do this.  Sign our letter demanding a robust register of lobbying activity.

We need a register that covers all lobbying -  whether it is done by consultants like Sarah Southern, public affairs companies like Bell Pottinger, large corporations with their own in-house teams, law firms, trade unions or campaigning groups like Unlock Democracy.  We are not opposed to lobbying  but this kind of secret lobbying, buying access (and even influence if Peter Cruddas is to be believed), can subvert democracy by giving those with the greatest resources undue influence and privileged access to politicians. 

So the lobbying register needs to capture all lobbying activity, not just what Sarah Southern calls “formal” lobbying.  It also needs to reveal meaningful information.  The government is suggesting that it should just name the lobbyists but not who they are seeking to influence, what policy they are working on or crucially how much money they are spending on lobbying activity.

The government proposals are a sham and Sarah Southern has shown just how meaningless they are. If you want know when people like Sarah Southern are seeking to influence the government, and want to be able to know who is pulling the strings of our government then please sign our letter today.

 

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