Pat Murtagh: We should say no to tyrants' cash

Good lobbying is not all about contacts. It is about building a solid case

Share
Related Topics

We all have the right to lobby our lawmakers in a democracy. And there is nothing intrinsically improper in asking a professional to prepare arguments and help you navigate the legislative or government process. There are benefits for both sides and indeed sometimes, for the taxpayer. Politicians are not experts, after all, and often need to be alerted to pitfalls and flaws in draft policy. Busy MPs and civil servants generally prefer information in short pithy form, delivered at a time when it can be most useful to their deliberations on a particular issue.

Not all lobbyists are greedy and unscrupulous, but the good ones are now, unfortunately, tarnished by the kind of alleged conduct exposed by the "Uzbekgate tapes". Lobbying can and should be done perfectly ethically but it relies on both the sound judgement of the practitioner – refusing to represent torturers, tyrants or those who justify child labour would seem elementary – and on the integrity of those who occupy positions of power. Crucially, MPs and ministers have a duty to evaluate the information they receive and to apply caution about giving privileged or fast-track access to favoured individuals.

Effective lobbying does not, in any case – contrary to what the Bell Pottinger transcripts would suggest – require tawdry bragging about who you know. The belief that it does is why so many firms hire ex-government staffers and former MPs. But this is naive. Rather, it is about building a case on solid evidence that stands on its own merits, and conveying that case to the right people (who are not necessarily the most senior) at the right time. In the past two years, I have for example, advised expert clinicians seeking to promote in parliament the unfashionable but important case for improved services for continence sufferers. I can tell you that exorbitant sums do not change hands in this kind of small-scale legitimate business.

Good lobbysists should welcome more transparency. A mandatory register would help shine light in dark recesses and might make people think twice about offering or accepting excessive hospitality. But would this alone dissuade those offered obscene amounts to burnish the brands of rogue regimes? My fear is it could also create a bureaucracy impeding or even excluding smaller practitioners or one-off interest groups, while doing little to curtail the big abuses.

Meanwhile, is it right that former cabinet ministers, senior civil servants or special advisers can legally emerge through the revolving door into jobs in the private sector in the very policy areas they influenced in government? Tighter controls, such as a minimum five-year gap between public office and a role in selling advice, where a conflict of interest is obvious, might be an even more effective reform.

The writer is director of PM Political Ltd

Related links
* Lobbyists - full related links

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
* thebureauinvestigates.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
Pat Murtagh
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Media, Advertising and Communications Manager

£55000 - £58000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful and w...

English Teacher needed for long term cover

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay TBA: Randstad Education Reading...

Primary General Cover Teachers needed

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past