Andy McSmith: Corridors of power are full of mysterious middle men

 

It was as difficult to walk through parts of Manchester earlier this month without bumping into a lobbyist as it has been for Liam Fox to visit a foreign capital without meeting up with Adam Werritty. Literally thousands of lobbyists took the trip north for a week's social networking and deal-clinching at the Conservative Party conference. There were more of them there than Tory representatives.

"It's difficult to distinguish between the Conservative Party and the lobbying industry, because the revolving door between the two is so well-oiled," Tamasin Cave, who runs the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said.

This phenomenon has grown since the election. Before then, it was around Labour ministers that lobbyists hovered, while David Cameron vouchsafed that he would curb their activities once he was in power. Now it is Tories who draw the lobbyists, and Labour that is calling for regulation.

No one is suggesting that it would be possible, or even desirable, to ban lobbying altogether. Businesses are affected by the decisions that politicians make and are entitled to call on the ser- vices of experts to help them to make sure that ministers understand what they are doing.

Where this £2bn-a-year industry becomes a target of suspicion is when its practitioners operate in secret, either by pretending that they are motivated by beliefs when in fact there is money involved, or by trying to disguise the fact that they are lobbyists.

Common sense suggests that deceit like this should be illegal, but it is not.The most effective way to prevent "in-betweeners" from bending the rules would be to force them, by law, to say who they are and who is paying them to do what. It should not be difficult to get legislation through Parliament. All it needs is the political will. If the Government suddenly finds the will, we can thank Adam Werritty.

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