THE BLOG

The Lobbying Act Will Not Stand the Test of Time

02/02/2014 22:53 GMT | Updated 04/04/2014 10:59 BST

On the evening of Tuesday 28 January, the government believes its long running omnishambles - that is, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill - finally came to an end. That evening, the government thinks it finally tamed, fixed and mastered one of its most acutely flawed and perilously rushed pieces of legislation ever. That evening, the government managed to counterproductively guarantee that none of this was really over.

And when they have to revisit this, future governments will see this for what it is - a joke of an act, aimed at cleaning up political sleaze by deflecting the problem onto anyone but the House itself. We have an ignorantly narrow definition of lobbying, a register that will not cover 80% of lobbyists, and a scope so bizarrely narrow it could only be supported by those who haven't the faintest clue about lobbying.

I do not believe, in their hearts, the government in any way, shape or form believes this Act is necessary. They ticked a box on the Coalition agreement; they had a kneejerk reaction to the low ethical standards of several politicians; they fed a fictitious fear that our industry has contributed to this age of political apathy and anger.

Lisa Nandy, shadow minister (Cabinet Office), wrote in this very outlet that there had been a "series of scandals involving Coalition politicians, lobbyists and special advisers" - erroneous; no lobbyists have been involved in any of the irrationally named "lobbying scandals".

She suggested that the Lobbying Bill "does absolutely nothing to clean up lobbying" - spurious; the lobbying industry does not need 'cleaning up' as codes of conduct overseen by the PRCA and other organisations exist to uphold standards in the public relations and communications industry and are a continuous condition of membership.

She argues that a "compulsory code of conduct", among other things, is required to "increase transparency" - false; voluntary regimes like the PRCA's code of conduct allows lobbying organisations to be recognised for their involvement, and Nandy's suggestion would not allow individuals, politicians and businesses to make a proper, informed decision about those conducting lobbying.

Professional, ethical lobbyists have nothing to fear from transparency. This entire debate is framed by one prevailing irony. The wholly undeniable truth - a truth that some commentators throughout the debate seem to have quite flippantly omitted or circumvented in their analysis - is that the industry wants transparency, is transparent, and currently abides by a greater level of transparency than this legislation could possibly hope to offer.

We welcome the fact that the government has conceded in several key areas, most notably ensuring that the register will detail where lobbyists do or do not subscribe to existing industry codes of conduct. Nonetheless this is not an Act which will stand the test of time.

In February 2010, just a whisker before the General Election, David Cameron said that lobbying "is the next big scandal waiting to happen". Not quite - the next big scandal turned out to be the same as many of the others - that of political sleaze. The now prime minister was, to his credit, right about one thing he said before the General Election: "sunlight is the best disinfectant", which is why we are and will always be an industry which prizes above-all-else the twin virtues of ethical conduct and transparency.