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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea