Not surprisingly, lobbying is back on the front pages only a few weeks after the resignation of Liam Fox. The former Defence Secretary, you may recall, had given extraordinary access and influence to his unelected friend Adam Werrity, a man in the pay of wealthy Tory donors. This used to be called cash for access.
Yesterday, the whiff of impropriety spread to Chris Huhne, a brilliant minister who has trouble avoiding scandal. His partner, Carina Trimingham, has been caught flaunting her "excellent contacts ... from Cabinet members to more junior members" in an emailed job application. In other words: pay me for access to the heart of government.
Meanwhile, the front of yesterday's Financial Times screamed: "Bankers accused of dishonest lobbying". Bankers are guilty of many things, and this may seem to be the least of their sins. But their vile purchase of lax regulation, through secret meetings and liquid lunches claimed on the company expenses, is a disgrace. Robert Jenkins of the Financial Policy Committee put it well: "A profession which should stand for integrity and prudence now supports a lobbying strategy that exploits misunderstanding and fear".
Lobbying is legalised bribery. Its growth in the past two decades has been phenomenal. In opposition, David Cameron said lobbying is the next big scandal. But across Western democracies, the scandal is already here. My second most depressing statistic of the year was $2.3bn (£1.5bn): how much American financial services spent on lobbying – more than agriculture, transport, health energy and defence combined. My most depressing statistic was 7,000: the number of lobbyists or media representatives at the Tory conference, as against 4,000 party members.
Journalism has been starved of cash by the internet. Politics is starved of honour by scandal. To fill those holes in our knowledge economy, lobbying and PR have grown fat. The number of brilliant young graduates who now "strategise" for suited, corporate schmucks is terrifying. Or go to any media awards ceremony, where you can't move for oleaginous, pinstriped losers who, rather than producing brilliant journalism, buy influence for their clients with promises of hospitality.
Some forms of lobbying – such as for charities – are less reprehensible. And a forthcoming review, proposing a register of interests, might help eradicate this cancer. In the meantime, however, I have a solution, pinched from the blogosphere. Force politicians to dress like Formula One drivers, with emblazoned logos of every large private donor, bank, real estate group, insurance firm and corporate toad they take money from. Perhaps then they'll think twice about doing it.
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