Home > Lobbying > Lobbying and a hung Parliament

Lobbying and a hung Parliament

Public Affairs News reports that lobbyists think a hung Parliament will be good for their business. The article quotes Graham McMillan of Open Road as saying:

Those of us old enough to remember John Major’s tiny majority between 1992 and 1997 will remember how every vote counts, smaller parties count, and changing just one or two MPs’ minds can change policy and legislation. Parliament will be very important again after many years of Labour’s big majorities.

The argument is not just that every MPs’ vote will count. In a hung Parliament, government policy will be subject to bargaining between the parties forming the coalition. With more policy being up for grabs, there is arguably more scope for lobbyists to shape the legislative agenda.

I sometimes hear a variation of this argument from people who admire the British parliamentary system and compare it with the American legislature. They tend to emphasise how weaker party control leads to more bargaining between Congressmen, with each trying to deliver some benefit for their state or donors, etc. By contrast, the legislative goals in the Westminster majoritarian system are thought to be relatively fixed – having been approved in an election – and cannot be easily swayed by outside interests.

The contrast can be something of a caricature and overstates the role of the mandate. The policy commitments at an election are vague and most lobbying will seek to influence the way those policies are fleshed out.  Furthermore, even with a hung Parliament, party whips will still put pressure on MPs, so the party leadership will be the most obvious target for lobbying. While a coalition/weak majority may give some MPs leverage, other may be vulnerable to pressure from whips (for example if they could lose their seat in a second election).

If a hung Parliament really does have the effect suggested above, it might change what lobbyists hope to get from MPs. My impression is that lobbyists now target MPs as a way of acquiring information and applying pressure on a minister, or they seek to influence a member that is on a particular committee or known to have some area of expertise. The change could mean that MPs become more of a focus in seeking to influence the legislative agenda and broader policy goals. Even if this were to occur, Whitehall will still be an important target, as lobbyists often seek fairly technical changes in the application of laws and regulations, rather than sweeping changes in policy.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but it underlines the need for greater transparency.

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Categories: Lobbying
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