Home > Lobbying > Cameron on lobbying and the revolving door

Cameron on lobbying and the revolving door

In a speech on fixing ‘broken politics,’ David Cameron has spoken out on lobbying, which he described as ‘next big scandal waiting to happen.’ He added:

we all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism. We believe in market economics, not crony capitalism.

He also spoke of the cynicism caused by suspicion that money secures influence:

I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.

I certainly share this concern and a promise to do something is welcome. Yet the focus of his speech is primarily on corruption type issues – namely whether politicians ‘use their contacts and knowledge – gained while being paid by the public to serve the public – for their own private gain.’ This is just one part of the problem. There may be instances where a politican does not gain personally, but where well funded lobby groups have a better chance to influence political decisions. This is a distinction I look at in the fourth chapter of Democracy Distorted. For example, hiring a well connected lobbying firm might bring some advantages, without any money going to a minister.

The remedy proposed is fairly limited, with Cameron focusing on ‘revolving door’ issues – namely employment secured by ministers once they leave office. Cameron states:

the guidelines state that former ministers shouldn’t lobby government for at least twelve months after leaving office. We will start by doubling that to two years

The guidelines provide that ministers must take advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments for employment taken up within 2 years of leaving office – so it is already within their power to impose limits in that time frame. According to the Public Administration Committee’s report, a two year ban on lobbying was imposed on David Blunkett. Cameron does make an important point about strengthening the sanctions for those in breach of rules, which has been a point of criticism of the arrangements.

The problems of lobbying, however, go beyond the revolving door. Cameron’s proposal might be a first step, but there are many other things that need to be done to address lobbying. There are questions about MPs having second jobs, for example. On issues of transparency, a register of lobbyists would be a bigger step – although one that raises many difficult questions of definition and comes with some administrative burdens. I will be interested to see the full reform proposals.

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