Lobbying: let’s get our House in order

My name is Rosanne, and I’m a lobbyist.

In the coming days and weeks, I fear that like the many bank workers before me who were entirely blameless for the financial crash, I’m going to be tarred with the same gnarly brush of sleaze and corruption whenever I happen to mention what I do for a living. Like religion and politics, it’ll be another thing not to mention during dinner, particularly ironic when you notice that I’m a parliamentary officer working for a Christian organisation.

Yet again, lobbying has come under the spotlight as an ignoble profession, attractive to those in search of power and a route into government, or those exiting the Whitehall scrum for a quieter office and final salary pension. As The Times undercover journalists clearly demonstrated this weekend, even at the epicentre of our democracy, there’s a lucrative market for the opportunistic.

Lobbying is about democracy. The thing that people forget is that MPs spend their time either on Westminster turf (in the House, in their office, in meetings, in the tea-room), or back in their constituency. If their constituency is outside of London, then they spend a lot of time on the train, possibly delayed and working their way through piles of casework queries from those people who elected them. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to bear the burden of countless people’s real dilemmas, homelessness, payday loans gone wrong, the threat of deportation. I can quite imagine lying awake at night, worrying and worrying and worrying. On top of that, MPs have to have an opinion on absolutely everything, from animal welfare to acute heart problems to energy policy and if they can’t answer immediately, are derided for being ‘out-of-touch’. Good MPs, and I maintain there are very many, literally carry the weight of the world around on their shoulders every single day.

Without meaning to appear sycophantic in my portrayal of the average MP’s life, the point I am making is that whatever you think of them, MPs are awfully busy and cannot, (however much we would like them to), keep up to date with absolutely every issue that concerns civil society, both nationally and globally. Which is where lobbyists come in. Put very simply, we keep MPs and peers in touch with civil society. We discuss the issues with them and provide the policy and research that they need to make a fuss in parliament, to ensure that they are standing up for the people who they were elected to represent. Yes they might ask parliamentary questions and yes they might decide to take action on an issue, but that’s because they believe it to be right, not because they are going to get paid. And we call them out too – lobbying is not about cosying up to power but more about challenging those who have the influence to use it in a way that can benefit civil society, whether it’s addressing poverty in the UK, or tackling global hunger, or fighting for greater equality for women.

For this reason, I am in favour of a statutory register for lobbyists. I have nothing to hide, after all. The European Parliament already has one and the political world hasn’t imploded. I’d find it interesting to know how many other interest groups are spinning through the doors of Portcullis House every day, if only as a demonstration of our bright and vibrant political culture. Transparency is a key issue on the UK Government’s agenda for the upcoming G8 summit and revisiting the issue of aggressive corporate lobbying is one of the ways we can show that we’re getting our house in order, perhaps a challenge for the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion, Ken Clarke MP.

Clearly, the British political system is still cracked in places that require a full overhaul, and a spotlight on those bad apples, both parliamentarian and lobbyist, is no bad thing. But it’s far too easy, and lazy, to demonise us all.