What does a lobbyist look like?
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Sep 28, 2012
The 2012 Public Affairs Survey was released this week with Total Politics magazine (online link here). Almost 400 public affairs practitioners- their preferred term for lobbyists- were surveyed with questions about their demographics, perceptions of public attitudes towards them and their thoughts about the future. The findings have interesting implications for how we can open up lobbying.
When asked about where they worked, 27% of respondents replied that they worked for an agency, which had declined markedly from the 36% last year. Most of the remainder worked in-house for the public, private or third sector. This has important implications for the proposed register of lobbyists in the UK, as this would only cover agency-based lobbyists. Given that this only applies to a quarter of lobbyists in the UK, to genuinely open up lobbying would require a far broader scope.
Rather unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents- almost three quarters- conduct the majority of their work in London where parliament is based. However, for a profession which involves influencing government policy, a substantial proportion of lobbyists- 47%- do not identify themselves as “politically active”.
Given the public demand for opening up lobbying, as evidenced by over a thousand Unlock Democracy supporters participating in the recent UK-wide consultation on the introduction of a register of lobbyists, it is also surprising to see that lobbyists perceive the general public to have a positive attitude towards their profession. Likewise, given the rash of scandals wherein politicians display inappropriately close relationships with lobbyists, it is interesting to note that lobbyists believe MPs to have a negative attitude towards them.
When asked to look ahead towards challenges and opportunities for lobbyists, the results were somewhat disappointing. Lobbyists saw the biggest challenge facing them the reputation of their industry. Only 9% believed that increased regulation via legislation would pose a challenge to them, suggesting that any proposed statutory register of lobbyists, if passed, would not have much effect on how lobbyists conduct business. Likewise, only 4% viewed being transparent as a positive opportunity for the future.
The secretive lobbying industry needs to change. While the ability to communicate with politicians is important, it needs to be open. In interpreting their findings, the survey authors say:
“Overall, it may add to the debate of which public affairs practitioners should be included on any statutory register of the industry, given the % that is operating within the not-for-profit, charitable and public sector”.
Transparency should apply to everyone. In our response to the lobbying consultation, we showed what it would look like if we signed the register.
It’s time to act to open up lobbying, and pressure the politicians from our perspective. There are a few things you can do.
Co-sign our letter to lobbying minister Chloe Smith asking her prioritise the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists
Write to your MP asking them to press for a robust register of lobbyists
SCOTLAND ONLY: Participate in the consultation on a statutory register of lobbyists
Public meeting at Scottish Parliament about the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists