THE BLOG
24/10/2011 09:59 BST | Updated 20/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Don't Worry About Lobbying, It's on its Last Legs

We shouldn't worry about lobbyists because the industry is actually in its death throes. It is poised to disappear with the power shift from politics to wider society which will take secret decision making, unofficial advisers, and funny handshakes with it.

We shouldn't worry about lobbyists because the industry is actually in its death throes. It is poised to disappear with the power shift from politics to wider society which will take secret decision making, unofficial advisers, and funny handshakes with it.

Traditional lobbying exists because politics has been where the power is. Decisions made by politicians affect the lives of people, businesses, charities, and so on. If politics were straightforward, there would be no need for the decoding skills of lobbyists. But it isn't straightforward - politics is a court.

Politics is a court because it comprises a band of powerful people with relationships forged in the darkness of time: old school friends, flatmates, party allegiances, interest groups. It is this web of cross-cutting relations that a lobbyist charts to understand how a government really works as opposed to how it looks on the surface.

Governments come to power not just to govern for the nation, but to implement a political agenda. They come with beliefs, values, dreams, hopes, and ambitions. These affect the policy decisions that are taken.

The big story in politics is that government is run by a political brotherhood. And it is in the gap between governing and the political agenda that the need for lobbying arises.

If the process of politics were straight and clear, there'd be no need for lobbying. But politics has its own logic, one with internal coherence, but this logic is often a source of mystery to anyone outside the system. Good lobbyists understand the logic.

But times are changing. Events of the last few months have thrown into sharp relief the waning power of politics. The big questions of our day have not been addressed by our political elites. In fact they seem ill-equipped to sort out much of anything. There is a new recognition of the limitations of politics and a sense that power in society is shifting inexorably away of the traditional political system.

As it wanes, traditional lobbying will go with it. Good riddance.

Because lobbying has grown up in the shadow of politics, it looks and behaves in a certain way. And this way is, quite frankly, awful. There is a lot of 'being in the know' and 'knowing the right people', and this attracts people for whom knowledge is power, people who like pecking orders and cliques. Of course there are good lobbyists, but there are enough bad ones to have irretrievably tainted the image of the industry.

As the power base begins to disperse, it is these old-style lobbyists will die on their feet.

Power is shifting to a wider set of actors. Social media, citizen journalism have created the foundations for a wider range of new voices. Beyond this, cultural figures, public intellectuals, academics, business experts, coal face practitioners - these people make our weather, they shape the climate of opinion and public debate. The public realm is becoming much more plural.

And this means lobbying should be more about public affairs and less about lobbying. Increasingly, the issue is how to get a good rich debate on a topic, rather than how to get access to one political decision maker.

The shift from influencing policy to influencing wider public debate will shift power from the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster to new the spaces where public debate is formed. On the web it includes online news forums, and blogs. In the flesh, it will be places such as the RSA, Editorial Intelligence, and The Royal Commonwealth Society - places that bring together actors and stakeholders from diverse sections of society to debate and discuss which form the new corridors of power.

In these environments, a commitment to openness, inclusivity and the spirit of inquiry is finally squeezing out the notion of private access or secret knowledge.

Finally, we might see an end to the court of politics and the birth of a public realm we can be proud of.