Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Britain’s lobbying rules are broken — the new government must commit to urgent reform – Politics.co.uk

All of the UK’s political parties have an interest in making this the last general election held under our current lobbying law.  Lax and unfit for purpose, it has served the public poorly since it was introduced a decade ago. Much lobbying activity is ethical and legitimate yet the law makes it unable to be seen. Then there’s the activity that takes place in the murk of undisclosed meetings and WhatsApp messages that the legislation has failed to stop.

Hard though it may be to feel much empathy with politicians over this – it is politicians rather than lobbyists who are regularly found to have broken the rules – we should spare a thought for those dedicated and hardworking MPs who want to do the right thing.  There are indications that the online threats and sheer nastiness that many MPs face as they go about their work are driving more of them than ever to give up politics.  The 2014 Lobbying Act was supposed to restore public trust in our system and our politicians, but I doubt many resigning MPs would agree that it has achieved this.  On the contrary, trust in politicians has continued to tank and their working environment has grown ever more hostile.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way.  Poll after poll shows that the public has no problem with business making its case to government – they just want it done in an open way.  At the same time, more and more businesses are committing themselves to ESG standards, meaning that transparent lobbying is a must, not an option.  The law, as currently written, is literally standing in the way of progress.  Businesses that want to register their lobbying aren’t allowed to.  This arrangement only benefits bad actors.

For their own sake as well as for the public interest, MPs need to take the opportunity of their 2024 manifestos to make clear that they will not allow this woeful state of affairs to continue any longer.  Every party should make a public commitment now to reforming the Lobbying Act.  It may not seem as urgent as housing, immigration or security, but an incoming government will find its honeymoon period unpleasantly short.

This July we will see many inexperienced new MPs entering the Commons for the first time, and it will probably not take long before some of them find themselves in trouble with investigating journalists over something they’ve promised to a person they believed to be a lobbyist.  This will reinforce the cynical view that ‘they’re all as bad as each other’  and the new government’s reputation will begin its steady, grim descent back to where we are today.

Another future is possible.  All parties must commit to lobbying reform as an early priority.  The CIPR will play its part by ensuring all new MPs are briefed on what good and bad lobbying look like.  The CIPR will also work with the incoming government to help get the detail right on a new bill to reform lobbying.  All we need is a bit of courage from the parties themselves.

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