THE BLOG

The Real Truth About Lobbying

17/03/2014 10:45 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

Good to see Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell setting out their thoughts on 'the truth about lobbying' in The Guardian this week.

Those of us who are proud to be professional lobbyists believe strongly that our industry needs to be transparent, and open to informed and intelligent scrutiny. But I'm not sure that is quite what Tamasin and Andy have achieved in their article.

After all, their sadly one-eyed focus on "tax-avoiding, polluting, privatising corporations" might well lead the uninformed reader to conclude that trades unions, charities and individuals don't ever try to inform and engage with the policy-making process. In fact, whisper it quietly, even campaigning groups like SpinWatch indulge in lobbying from time to time. And it is absolutely right that they do. Politics needs to be fuelled by information and experience of the real world. Policy-making in an ivory tower leads inevitably to bad laws and bad decisions.

And the same uninformed reader might read about the evil machinations of the companies Tamasin and Andy are concerned about and forget that these organisations are the ones actually creating jobs, promoting skills, driving economic development, and typically behaving in the sustainable and responsible way of which we probably all approve. Simply trying to operate successfully does not make a company reprehensible - in fact it is arguably its primary responsibility, and the thing that allows it to deliver all those social goods.

In any case, Tamasin and Andy's view of 'lobbying' is in many ways quaintly old-fashioned. I have been in the business for ten years and I can tell them that lobbying in the 21st century is focused on informing the policy-making process, on ensuring that politicians, officials, advisers and others are aware of the full impact of the decisions they might make. As I've said already, policy-making in a vacuum leads to bad policy. Many of the examples they cite in their article seem to me to be about organisations trying simply to explain the consequences of particular decisions and actions.

Finally, in almost every case lobbying is conducted in accordance with the plethora of regulations and laws that now govern this area. Alongside primary legislation there are the rules and regs of Parliament, of the Cabinet Office, of the APPC, PRCA and others which mean that the overwhelming majority of professional lobbyists operate transparently and openly. In fact when lobbying 'scandals' occur they usually don't involve professional lobbyists at all; instead, they centre on hapless current and former politicians play-acting at being lobbyists and being caught out by media stings.

A better target for this article might have been those organisations which would never deign to say they are lobbyists, but which offer lobbying services as a sideline: the management consultants, the lawyers and others. Persuading them to apply the same levels of transparency as members of the APPC and PRCA would be a worthwhile aim that really would improve lobbying in the UK today.

So, as I've said, there is an important and informative story to be told about lobbying in Britain. But it wasn't in this article. And I suspect it isn't in Tamasin and Andy's book.