Leading article: A lobbying culture that needs to be challenged

 

Share

Ministerial resignations normally clear the air. The temperature cools immediately and political business resumes as usual. But not in this case. Liam Fox's departure leaves a cloud of unanswered questions over the precise role of his friend, Adam Werritty, in the Ministry of Defence. Had Mr Werritty just been a freeloader on the former minister's multifarious overseas trips it would only be a matter of a friendship that went too far. But as the growing calls for a fraud investigation into Mr Werritty's business activities indicate, much more is at stake here.

What is disturbing about those activities is that they involved members of a number of groups such as the now defunct group, Atlantic Bridge – all lobby groups for various countries or foreign political interests – obtaining privileged access to a senior minister. Labour has made a great brouhaha over the now defunct Atlantic Bridge and its links to climate change sceptics and Tea Party supporters in the US Republican party. More worrying than that is the possibility that Israel's right-wing government enjoyed a kind of hotline to Mr Fox via Mr Werritty's friends in Atlantic Bridge and Bicom.

The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre describes itself as a "British organisation dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain". But it is seen as very close to the Israeli government, as was Atlantic Bridge. Whether either organisation paid Mr Werritty for lobbying work remains to be seen. Bicom denies paying Mr Werrity for lobbying work and this week's report on Mr Fox by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, states that “Both Mr Werrity and Dr Fox are clear that Mr Werrity never lobbied Dr Fox on behalf of donors” (including Bicom).

But even if nothing is proved on that point, that cannot be the end of it because a separate charge remains standing: did Mr Fox allow an unofficial adviser to effectively conduct an unofficial foreign policy, parallel to that of the Foreign Office? The Foreign Secretary himself, William Hague, denied this possibility yesterday. But he is not yet in a position to pronounce on the question with real authority until it becomes clear how often his former colleague met these lobbyists. We should also remember that Mr Hague has an interest in defending Mr Fox. The two men have a similar, though not identical, anti-European, ardently pro-American outlook, which explains why Atlantic Bridge once enjoyed Mr Hague's sympathy. Mr Fox's downfall rids Mr Hague of a rival on the right of the Conservative Party, but Mr Hague is understandably wary of joining the onslaught on Mr Fox lest their joint cause become discredited along with the man.

Meanwhile, the Fox-Werritty affair is a gift for those who, especially in the wake of the MPs' expanses scandal, regard politicians with great suspicion and who would like to see all of their actions, conversations, meetings and indeed friendships subjected to ever-tighter supervision. We should by all means look again at the code of ministerial conduct for glaring loopholes, and the planned register of lobbies is to be welcomed.

At the same time we should beware of acting hastily to sweep away a scandal if that prevents a thorough consideration of the role of lobbyists and their backers and hangers-on in Britain's political life. If the inquiry into this affair is to be expanded to cover lobbying in general, as some are calling for, we must not search for instant panaceas to a deep-seated ill. Lobbying has become part of the warp and woof of Britain's modern political culture and moves to counter its subtle but pernicious influence must be carefully considered.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?