Revealed: Labour's links with lobbyists

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The Independent Online
Fresh evidence of a startlingly close relationship between Labour and its former staffers who now work for lobbyists is revealed by an official register of firms and their clients seen by The Independent.

Despite a promise to "clean up politics" made before the general election, former Labour officials who have become lobbyists are being wooed by party fund-raisers eager to raise money from their clients.

Among a group of between 50 and 60 Labour lobbyists who have been invited for drinks at Millbank and to a seminar on sponsorship are representatives of arms dealers, the tobacco industry and firms involved in genetic engineering.

Almost every major lobbying company now employs at least one a former Labour staffer or someone with close links to the party, the register reveals.

Set up at the request of Sir Gordon Downey and supplied to the Cabinet Office, the register is in the Commons Library but it is believed only a handful of people have consulted it.

A raft of bright, mostly young Labour employees left the party either just before or just after the general election for the more lucrative world of "public affairs."

The Independent understands that far from distancing itself from this new body of supporters, Labour has actively sought to retain its links with them. There have been at least two drinks parties at Millbank and invitations to a seminar at which sponsorship is discussed.

Among the party events which are believed to have been sponsored by clients of these lobbyists are some of the Welfare to Work roadshows which have been hosted by ministers around the country.

A senior figure in the lobbying world said last night that many of those who had made the transition were now finding their loyalties divided. While they wanted to remain loyal to Labour, their employers demanded their clients came first.

"Many of these people are quite young and aren't really able to decide what's good or bad value for money. We are not terribly keen on the idea of giving money to any political party. If our clients want to, our usual advice is to think very carefully."

While access to ministers was slightly more difficult under Labour, this was mainly because the party was more cliquey than the Conservatives. The three key advisers that lobbyists most wanted to know were Dan Corry at the Department of Trade and Industry, Ed Balls at the Treasury and Geoff Norris at the Downing Street Policy Unit, he said. A relationship with one of them would be particularly valuable because all had extremely low "call-back factors."

But while Labour officials are wooing lobbyists, MPs are complaining that they are besieged by calls from them. The chairs of select committees in the Commons say they have around two calls or letters every week, on average. Ex-Labour staff were useful to lobbyists because of their contacts but there were only a few really senior figures among them.

There is no suggestion that any Labour minister or MP has taken money to perform tasks for lobbyists, as some Conservatives did. However, one senior political consultant said last night that it was "standard practice" to offer sponsorship in return for a minister's presence at a seminar or other event.

A Labour spokeswoman said there had only been one seminar for lobbyists, and that was not simply for former Labour employees. "We just invited lobbyists in. You know we are looking for sponsorship for various things. There is no question of asking former employees, because lobbying companies can send who they like. Some of them would have been former employees," she said.

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