Steve Richards: Now we see this industry has oversold itself

Related Topics

Cabinet ministers are human beings. They know people. They have friends and former colleagues who are sometimes also friends. Some of their friends and former colleagues become lobbyists. Their closeness to ministers is the reason they secure lucrative jobs.

This is not healthy, but is unavoidable unless a ban is placed on ministers having friends, or on former special advisers having no further contact of any kind with ministers once they have left their employment. Obviously this will not happen and could not happen. So what matters is to make access as transparent as possible.

Most of the time it is. Ask Liam Fox, who thought he could get away with giving one friend unique access. He is now an ex-minister. Lobbyists are in some ways transparent in that their task is clearly stated. We have always known that they partly seek to provide access for clients. In yesterday's Independent the former Conservative MP, Tim Collins, was caught showing off about how much access he could provide to rogue regimes.

No doubt he knows William Hague, Steve Hilton and Ed Llewellyn. Whether he knows them well enough that the trio would have risked their careers on behalf of various tyrants is another matter. With amoral resolution, Collins was trying to secure a lucrative deal and went for the hard sell.

One consequence is that his company Bell Pottinger will need a lot of hard selling to secure new contracts in the future. An art of the lobbyist is to appear not only to have insider knowledge but also to convey a sharp "know it all" modernity, so clients feel fashionably connected. Any blemish makes the lobbyists' art impossible to accomplish. An apparent willingness to mediate on behalf of rogue regimes is a near fatal blemish.

Collins was caught exaggerating the degree he held sway with the powerful, as others have been in the past. The swagger tends to be especially marked early in the life of a new government, when relationships between new ministers and those with whom they used to work are fresh. Early in the life of New Labour, Derek Draper boasted that there were only a few people who mattered in government and he knew them all. Both boasts were true, but Draper might still have made use of that access if he were not a lobbyist. In both his case and that of Collins, the issue is not that they knew ministers or had access to them, but whether they could provide unfair influence for clients who pay them in return.

Sometimes lobbyists provide a fast-track route to ministers. Whether government policies change as a result is much harder to measure. Most cabinet ministers do not have much power and junior ministers even less. The few that do are usually capable of thinking for themselves and unlikely to be persuaded by lobbyists or meetings with the lobbyists' clients.

The main issue in relation to some lobbyists is their indiscriminate greed. The issue for their clients is whether the lobbyists are worth quite as much as they assume. The rest of us need to know more in order to make that judgement too.

Related links
* Lobbyists - full related links

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'