Tamasin Cave
An initial statement by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency on the Leveson report PDF Print E-mail
Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, 29 November 2012
Lord Leveson was never going to uncover a ‘deal’ between the government and News International over the BSkyB bid. That is not how lobbying works.
What The Leveson Report does show however, in forensic detail, is the discreet, yet sustained lobbying campaign undertaken by NI through a deliberate network of personal relationships, what the report describes as the “serious hidden problem” of NI’s lobbying, “where the informal, ‘off-record’ and ‘personal’ is seen as an obvious and effective means of conducting lobbying”.
Leveson clearly states:

There is of course no evidence at all of explicit, covert deals between senior politicians and newspaper proprietors or editors; no-one should seriously have expected that there would be. These very powerful relationships are more subtle than that…. But there can be no doubt that within these relationships… there have been exchanges of influence on matters of public policy which have given rise to legitimate questions about the confidence the public can have that they have been conducted scrupulously in the public interest.

The pattern which emerges is one in which senior press / political relationships have been too close to give sufficient grounds for confidence that fear or favour have not been operative factors in the determination and implementation of policy.
What The Bankers Did Next... a short film PDF Print E-mail

15 Oct 2012

A year ago today the first tents started appearing outside St Paul’s Cathedral. The Occupy protest was directed at the actions of the City – the greed and corruption – that led to the current economic crisis and massive, growing financial inequality.

Since the crash of 2008, British taxpayers have shelled out an incredible £1.2 trillion on bailing out and propping up the banks. Nearly five years on, the UK’s banking scandals seem never-ending. Money laundering, interest-rate rigging, product mis-selling, IT meltdowns, tax dodging, sanctions busting – few big names remain untainted.

Despite all this, the City continues to enjoy a cosy relationship with our politicians and policymakers. Its intense lobbying alongside big business has helped rewrite corporate tax laws in its favour and push back against new regulations designed to prevent another crisis.

The Conservative Party gets over half its funding from City financiers. Behind closed doors, government ministers such as ex-banker Lord Sassoon, the Commercial Secretary, make no secret of where loyalties lie.

“This is a right of centre, market-driven government … a government with a number of bankers in its ranks, led by a Prime Minister who is proud to say he comes from a stockbroking family,” he recently said.

Spinwatch has produced this short film on lobbying by the City. ‘What The Bankers Did Next…’ takes a look at the government’s close relationship with the finance industry, some of the key players involved, and their efforts to manage public opinion and shut down debate.

We have also created a new Finance Lobbying Portal on our wiki Powerbase, which aims to guide you around some of the companies, lobbyists and think tanks involved in finance sector lobbying in the UK and Brussels.

Generals-for-hire, the denial continues PDF Print E-mail

13 October 2012

A Sunday Times investigation has caught them out again. This time it secretly filmed top-ranking retired generals boasting about their lobbying ability when it comes to helping arms firms secure multi-million-pound defence contracts. 

It is an open secret that commercial companies buy access and influence by hiring insiders.

But in this instance the government will find it extremely difficult to spin the line, as it has repeatedly, that these particular lobbyists – all ex military chiefs – are deluded Walter Mitty types, claiming influence and access they don’t have.

This kind of secret deal-making between insiders is routine. In the MoD it's endemic.

The already weak rules, which are designed to prevent ex-officials from flogging their public sector contacts and knowledge to the highest private sector bidder, are clearly bust and held in contempt.

We know this, they know this. Yet nothing is done.

David Cameron’s statement that lobbying was the ‘next big scandal waiting to happen’ was prophetic. His government has been the source of such scandal again and again. We’ve had the Tory ex-defence secretary, Liam Fox and his secret aide-cum-lobbyist Adam Werritty; Tory peer Lord Bell’s firm boasting of the highest access and use of ‘dark arts’; Peter Cruddas, ex-Tory treasurer offering access to the PM for cash. And now generals secretly lobbying over arms contracts.

Lobbying is legitimate. But in secret, with no public scrutiny and no government accountability, it can result in crony capitalism. With the current state of the public finances, we need to know that contracts are awarded on merit, and not because somebody went to school with the guy holding the purse.

Lobbyists score another own goal PDF Print E-mail

23 September 2012

The UK Public Affairs Council, the vehicle set up by the lobbying industry to try and avoid a statutory register of lobbyists, appears to have scored yet another own goal.

On Friday, it announced that registration to its voluntary register of lobbyists – originally restricted to members of the lobbying trade bodies that set it up – is now open to all. This is in response to widespread criticism that the UKPAC register has so far only included a fraction of the UK's lobbyists.

In announcing the move, UKPAC welcomed two new, non-member lobbyists to the register: Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Pattie and Caroline Flynn-MacLeod of Terrington Management LLP.

Terrington Management is 'a government relations consultancy based in Westminster', offering among other things 'Political Intelligence'. Its website claims: "The experience of the Partners in Government (both national and international), in Parliament, in NATO, in business and in the military offers an unrivalled added value opportunity to clients."

And yet, no mention of these clients on the UKPAC register. Both Pattie and Flynn-MacLeod are registered as individuals employed by Terrington Management. Neither lists their clients.

A deceitful way to govern PDF Print E-mail

7 September 2012

The BBC reports today that the government is increasing the amount it spends on advertising and PR next year "to help it sell NHS changes and other policies to the public."

The government's 2012-13 marketing budget is £285m, according to the Cabinet Office.

But what's most concerning is not so much the vast amount of money the government is still spending on PR, but where that money is going.  

PR and lobbying firms, which predominantly act on behalf of corporate interests, are seeing growth in government contracts for something called 'stakeholder   engagement'. In plain English this means spending on campaigns to persuade the public of the wisdom of the government's reform programme.

Take Grayling, the industry leader in public sector communications. It saw its income from government communications contracts decline last year. But it's predicting that it will be able to cash in from the government's need to sell its unpopular reforms to a skeptical public. James Ford of Grayling says: Those organisations that need to undergo some degree of service change need to talk to the public about it, and that's where we're using our comms expertise." It's even launched a new division, Grayling Engage to provide "public consultation and engagement" work.

We must fight back against these City lobbyists PDF Print E-mail

Comment in the Guardian: 11 July 2012

'Angela, the country owes you a debt of gratitude," said Treasury minister Lord Sassoon, referring to the outgoing head of the British Bankers' Association, Angela Knight. He was speaking at the inaugural BBA summer lecture last month, just as the RBS computer balls-up was freezing customers' money, and only days before the scandal broke over Libor, a system overseen by the BBA.

Gratitude for what, exactly? As the Guardian and Bureau of Investigative Journalism exposed today, the BBA has used a multimillion-pound fighting fund to successfully lobby for policies that benefit the big banks. It's only logical that it should, after all. But, as business secretary Vince Cable says, the interests of the financial sector, particularly the banks, "are often not the same as those of the real economy".

The £92m lobbying budget available to the financial sector as a whole means that it can afford to lobby for the drafting of amendments to new rules; it can pile on the pressure for lower taxes like the 50p rate (producing report after report in the runup to the budget); it can fund thinktanks to push the line on its behalf; it can fill policymakers' lives with conferences and seminars to discuss and shape reforms; and it can pay for the private dinners, banquets, champagne receptions and country estate awaydays that all allow its representatives to casually bond with our legislators.

Just another deluded lobbyist? PDF Print E-mail

25 April 2012

So, this Mr Fred Michel fellow, as he is now being called by the Conservatives, is a just a lobbyist trying to impress his boss, James Murdoch, claiming access he never had. The 163 pages of emails released today by the Leveson inquiry are, say defenders of Jeremy Hunt, just a PR man showing off.

The emails show that Hunt’s office was in regular contact with Michel. For example, one reads: “Managed to get some infos on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal!),”  referring to intelligence they'd gathered on a parliamentary statement Hunt was due to make. Another shows that when Hunt cancels a meeting with James Murdoch because he has received "very strong legal advice not to meet us today as the current process is treated as a judicial one", Michel reports to his boss that he can still talk to him on his mobile phone "which is completely fine"

And the government's response? Tonight Downing Street is insisting that Michel’s emails reflect “a whole series of conversations that didn’t take place ”.

Remember the government's response to the previous lobbying scandal, the cash-for-access one involving Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas. He claimed on film that that large cash payments could secure dinner with the prime minister and an opportunity to influence government policy. The government's response then was that it was a lot of bluster, that no one in the Number 10 policy unit ever met anyone at Peter Cruddas's request, and that Cruddas certainly had never been near Cameron's flat. Again, one man's boasts. Move on.

Or the scandal before that? The one involving lobbyists at Bell Pottinger again caught on film claiming access and influence with No10. A Downing Street spokesman came back with a familiar retort: "It is simply untrue to say that Bell Pottinger or any other lobbying company influences government". No truth to the claims of access and influence. Just more boasts.

What about the one before that? When attempts were made to paint Adam Werritty, the unofficial adviser-cum-lobbyist to now ex-defence secretary Liam Fox, as a Walter Mitty character, someone who indulged in fantasy, who "pretended he was something he wasn't". Another deluded lobbyist.

Will they try it again? Probably. Or will they finally face the fact that we have a problem with lobbying in this country and actually do something about it. Who knows.


Sarah Southern, strictly confidential PDF Print E-mail

1 April 2012

David Cameron held "secret meetings" with big donors which were not declared, the Sunday Times (£) reports today in its follow up to last week’s Cash for Cameron investigation.

The now ex-party treasurer Peter Cruddas and large donors met David Cameron at more than a dozen private events, it reveals, none of which got a mention on a list published this week by Downing Street.

Among the fresh allegations is a document written by the lobbyist and former Cameron aide, Sarah Southern, who was hired by the reporters. In it she outlines what her company Sarah Southern Consulting could do – for £15,000 a month – for the fake wealth fund executives. Her proposal offers the following services:

  • A series of introductions and meetings with key decision makers at the heart of government, “likely to include Ministers, MPs, Special Advisers, policy developers and key influencers within the Party and Coalition”;
  • These meetings will provide the client with “the latest information and intelligence on current decision making and behind the scenes operation”;
  • Meetings will also provide an opportunity for Ministers, MPs and their advisers to hear the views of the client "on a range of issues and suggestions for future direction on policy".
There’s more besides in the 9 page document on the many clubs, conferences and dinners that the clients can buy into to “engage and meet with senior Party people including the Cabinet and key MPs.” But perhaps the most interesting paragraph is the final one:
"Confidentiality: Sarah Southern Consulting operates on a strictly confidential basis. Clients are not revealed through any marketing materials…Client names are only revealed with the approval of the client… Discretion and confidentiality will be maintained.”

This is two fingers to the government’s pledge on lobbying transparency from someone who "spent more time in the first third of [2010] with DC than I did with anybody else in my life", "planning and executing David Cameron's events and visits prior to and during the General Election". She was perhaps too busy to listen to DC's speech in February 2010 predicting that lobbying is "the next big scandal" and his pledge to "be the party that sorts all this out".

At the moment, without statutory regulation for lobbyists, the likes of Sarah Southern (and the lobbying industry is littered with former party workers) are free to operate in secret. And under the government’s proposals to regulate lobbyists… the vast majority of lobbyists will stay under the radar. The proposals are a sham. Without fundamental changes to its plans, lobbyists will continue to get paid by clients to meet, fund and influence our political leaders in secret. Cue another scandal.

David Cameron's diary won't solve the lobbying crisis PDF Print E-mail

Only a robust lobbying register – not politicians' diary notes – can curb private interests' influence over government policy; from Guardian Comment is Free, 27 March 2012.

In May 2008, just a week after being elected mayor, Boris Johnson received a an invitation from City lobbyist Roland Rudd: "Would you like to have dinner with me and a small group of senior chairmen and chief executives who would be fascinated to hear your plans for London," wrote Rudd.

Johnson was "pleased to accept" and duly cycled to Rudd's grand house in Kensington for a 7.30pm "meet and greet". After 25 minutes, the guests were seated, and at precisely 8.05pm, starters served. Ten minutes passed before Rudd made introductions, and at 8.20pm Johnson said a few words ("standing at the table"). At 8.25pm, the mains arrived. Boris was away by bike at 10.30pm. This much we know (from documents released by the mayor's office under freedom of information). What we don't know is what was discussed in the course of the three-hour dinner: what information was shared, and on which policy matters the mayor was lobbied. Were any promises made or deals struck?

And now we are to know the supper arrangements of the prime minister, who has offered to publish quarterly his dinners with donors. Don't be fooled. We will similarly learn very little of consequence from such disclosure. More importantly, this small offering of transparency is being served up by the government at a time when it is actively engaged in limiting public scrutiny of lobbying.

Cash for Cameron: UPDATE PDF Print E-mail

25 March 2012

Lots of commentary today on the latest lobbying scandal involving 'Cash for Cameron', including this from Lord Mandelson on Sky News: 

"I’ve got nothing against people contributing to politics. Some people contribute their time, others contribute money but there has to rules, there has to be transparency."

This is the Mandelson who recently dodged new rules which would force peers to disclose certain business clients. Mandelson runs a consultancy business, Global Counsel. Just as the new rules came in, he switched his entry on the Lords register of interests from one category ('directorship') to another ('paid employment'), sidestepping the requirement to disclose his client list. The FT has the full details

This sorry state of affairs has led the Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper, in charge of regulating lobbying, to suggest that he will apply a "Lord Mandelson test" to the Government’s lobbying register plans to ensure they stand up to scrutiny.

Harper was told: “Any lobbying register that doesn’t include Peter Mandelson is going to be subject to ridicule.” 

As it stands, however, the government's plans to open up lobbying are a joke. Although, not a very funny one in light of today's revelations.

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