New Tories in business lobby

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The Conservative Party's links with business lobbyists will be strengthened after the next election with at least a quarter of the new 60-plus Tory intake having a consultancy or public relations background.

An analysis of new Tory candidates in safe seats by the Public Policy Unit (PPU) identifies at least 16 prospective Tory MPs who work for political lobbyists, describe themselves as public affairs consultants or are known to work in the public relations industry.

There are also more such candidates who have been selected for less secure seats, despite the public outcry over the Neil Hamilton and Ian Greer affair.

In contrast, Labour has only three prospective new MPs with lobbying connections.

Top lobbying firms including Westminster Strategy, Waterfront Partnership, the Rowland Company and PPU will all provide new MPs.

These firms have acted for the likes of British Telecom, the water utilities, SmithKline Beecham and Rolls-Royce and their list is headed by ex-Treasury minister John Maples and Andrew Lansley, the former Tory director of research.

Many, such as Tim Collins, a former Tory director of communications, have acted as self-employed consultants. Others are employed by large firms, such as David Cameron who is head of public affairs at Carlton TV, and David Ruffley who is public affairs specialist at top City lawyers Clifford Chance.

New rules from the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life bar MPs from paid consultancies with multi-client firms.

A greyer area, however, lobbyists concede, would be where candidates take clients and their connections with them. Tory Central Office has left it up to individuals to decide.

But in the new public mood, those contacted by the Independent on Sunday said they would sever all links. "I intend to take a parliamentary salary and no consultancies or directorships whatsoever," said John Bercow, a consultant with Westminster Strategy, who is standing for the safe Tory seat of Buckingham.

Labour's trio is headed by Charles Clarke, Neil Kinnock's chief of staff in 1992, who runs Quality Public Affairs. An associate stressed this offered "public affairs advice, not lobbying".

It also includes Lorna Fitzsimmons, a former president of the National Union of Students now with the Rowland Company.

Though seen as mainly a Tory issue, muck-raking after the Ian Greer affair has also hit Labour. "Attempts have been made to say that I am standing to benefit my clients and my company, which I totally refute," said Ms Fitzsimmons, who is fighting a bitter battle in Liberal Democrat Rochdale.

"If elected, I plan to drop all consultancy work. As the practices of the few have shown, paid consultancies devalue parliament."