Just before he took power back in 2010, David Cameron described lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. He was right. But six years later, not much has changed. Theresa May has promised a government that is driven ‘not by the interests of the privileged few’ but by ordinary people. Will her words prove more meaningful than her predecessor?
Back in 2014, Cameron’s coalition passed the Transparency of Lobbying Act, which introduced a lobbying register for the very first time. Sounds pretty good, right? Think again. The lobbying register is so full of holes a Conservative peer actually tried to change the name of the Act, because he said it wouldn’t make lobbying any more transparent.
The register is completely unfit for purpose. It is too narrow and provides no meaningful information. Firstly, the register only applies to lobbyists-for-hire, exempting the vast majority of powerful lobbyists who work in-house. The UK register has just 136 registrants compared to 1,300 in Ireland - which has a much smaller lobbying industry. Secondly, lobbyists only have to name clients if they contact a minister on their behalf, even though lobbyists rarely meet with politicians on behalf of clients. Worse still, the register fails to capture the vast majority of lobbying, which targets special advisors or more junior staff who are responsible for drafting policy. Finally, it fails to provide any information about who lobbyists are talking to and what they are seeking to influence.
This bogus Bill has undermined public confidence in policymakers. Strong rhetoric has failed to result in strong action. Once again, there is a crisis of trust in our political institutions and in our politicians, who seem reluctant to remove a source of scandal. With Brexit on the way and the UK experiencing a period of huge political upheaval the Times warns that even more influence will fall into the hands of lobbyists vying to represent corporate interests in new trade deals.
Lobbying is essential for a healthy democracy but unless it is transparent, it will be dominated by the interests of the rich and powerful. Big business and corporations are able to channel money and resources into lobbying that charities and NGOs just can’t compete with. Without transparency there is no chance for public or parliamentary scrutiny. We need to know what is going on behind closed doors to be able to hold our elected politicians to account. We need greater lobbying transparency to restore public trust and enhance our democracy.
Unlock Democracy has been working with Lord Brooke to table a Private Member's Bill - to be debated on 9 September - which aims to scrap the current bogus lobbying register and replace it with a genuine register. This register would cover all paid lobbyists and would require them to state:
* Who they are lobbying in government
* Who they are lobbying for
* What they are seeking to influence
* How much they are spending
The Bill would bring the UK into line with other institutions such as the US, EU and Scotland. It’s time for Theresa May to put clear blue water between her and Cameron. She can set the tone for her Premiership by backing real lobbying transparency.
William Hague advising a US lobbying firm is no surprise. Only an effective register can reveal the true reach of the industry that bedevilled David Cameron writes Tamasin Cave in the Guardian today.
In the days following the mass resignation of Labour MPs from Jeremy Corbyn's shadow Cabinet, a number of prominent Labour figures expressed support for Saving Labour, a website dedicated to signing up party members in support for Corbyn's departure.
Despite the backing of luminaries from Yvette Cooper to Robert Harris and J.K. Rowling, the site's provenance is remarkably opaque. The Labourlist blog has described its origins as 'uncertain' despite a claim by the Copeland MP Jamie Reed that 'Saving Labour is an organic initiative, as far as I’m aware'.
Peter Edwards reported:
The founders of Saving Labour are unknown. LabourList has been handed the names of several well-known activists who it is believed are behind the project but they have denied involvement or declined to respond to efforts to contact them.
According to WHOIS data, the website appears to have been registered by an anonymous client, on 25 June 2016, two days after the EU referendum, and the day before Hilary Benn's dismissal as Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Saving Labour was also entered in the Data Protection Register at a separate address on 27 June. This location in Canterbury is also listed at Companies House as the correspondence address of Denys Alan Reg Race, a director of Quality Health Ltd. According to data from 192.com, Race and his wife Amanda Moore are also on the electoral register at this residential address.
Ironically, Race was himself a left-wing MP and ally of Corbyn in the 1980s. However, by the time he contested Tony Benn's former seat of Chesterfield in 2001 he was described by the Guardian as a 'Blairite poodle'.
After leaving Parliament, he and his wife Amanda Moore set up Quality Health, which carries out staff and patient surveys for the NHS. The Telegraph quoted a former member of Neil Kinnock's shadow cabinet saying of Race's new career: 'Reg was one of the most disruptive, hardline Labour MPs. A lot of people make their peace with capitalism later on in life. I wasn't expecting Reg to though.'
Race faced controversy in 2008 when it emerged that he had a private meeting at the Department of Health with the then Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, having made the largest single donation, some £5000, to Johnson's deputy leadership campaign the previous year. The Sunday Times of 4 February 2008 reported: 'Race's company is one of a select group of "approved contractors" that health trusts must hire to conduct staff and patient surveys. The company, which Race owns with his wife Amanda Moore, has contracts with 320 of the 487 NHS trusts to conduct annual surveys introduced by Labour ministers in 2003.'
Email and phone messages from Spinwatch to Quality Health seeking an explanation for the coincidence in address between its managing director and Saving Labour have not received a substantive response at the time of publication.
Thanks to Naadir Jeewa for identifying the Saving Labour entry in the ICO register and other contributions to this story.
Brussels, 23 May 2015 – Do you want to see more transparency about who is lobbying who in Brussels and the EU institutions? Are you angry about the privileged access that corporate lobbyists get to EU decision-makers, whether it be on TTIP, tobacco, climate, regulation, digital rights…?
The European Commission is consulting about how to improve the EU lobby transparency register with a view to revising and improving the current set-up. The consultation process is far from perfect, and the extent of the Commission’s future ambition is not yet clear, but nonetheless, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is keen to see as many individuals and organisations as possible express their views on this topic. The more that the Commission hears critical voices supporting a robust EU lobby transparency regime, the more chance that the Commission will produce a strong proposal.
To this end, ALTER-EU has produced an outline response to the consultation which might give you ideas for your own submission. Our outline makes suggestions in various areas and is for you to adapt as you wish. Do get in touch if you have any questions. And do let us know if you send in a submission.
Download full document at the ALT website and read ALTER-EU’s own consultation response.
For more information please contact: Andreas Pavlou | Access Info Europe
Send an e-mail or call +34 913 656 558
A Spinwatch report released this month reveals the deep ties between pro-Israel organisations operating in Brussels and US-based right-wing donors, Republican supporters of Islamophobic causes and proponents of Israel’s settlement project. The report's authors argue we need much greater transparency in political lobbying at the EU.
Since Palestinian civil society announced the call in 2005 for an international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, similar to the one that helped end apartheid in South Africa, an array of pro-Israel organisations have been established in Brussels to influence European policy on Israel-Palestine. Most of the discussion of the ‘Israel lobby’ centres on its activities in Washington. But are there similar groups active in Brussels? For more than two years we have been researching that question. It turns out that there is indeed a burgeoning Israel lobby in Brussels.
New report on Israel lobby in Brussels’ reveals links to US Islamophobia industry and illegal settlementsBy Europal Forum/Public Interest Investigations
Press release: Our new report on the Israel lobby and the European Union is launched today (9 May) in Brussels and this coming Friday in London (13 May).
Researched and written by Public Interest Investigations/Spinwatch and published by EuroPal Forum, the report reveals the extent to which noted American funders and proponents of the Islamophobia industry in the United States and Israel’s illegal settlement project in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem are also financing the expanding Israel lobby in Brussels.
This hasn’t been a good week for education reformers. Narrow, high stakes testing - their quick fix for improving learning – is in the dock. But it will take more than a few botched tests to stop corporations from profiting from this '$4.5 trillion opportunity'.
Mid week, it emerged that a Sats spelling test due to be taken next month had been accidentally published as a ‘sample paper’ by the Department of Education months ago.
Given that no one has any idea how many children have used it to practice for the test, headteachers called for schools to be allowed to spend their time more fruitfully, rather than taking what is now a seriously compromised assessment. Today the schools minister Nick Gibb agreed and suspended it.
At the very same moment we, in the UK, learnt of the error, thousands of children in New Jersey sat at their desks looking at blank screens instead of the maths and English tests they were due to take.
Splits occur within European Commission, as European Parliament, Ombudsman and NGOs increase the pressure for implementing UN rules for contacts with tobacco industry lobbyists.
In February, European Commission President Juncker took many by surprise by flatly rejecting a European Ombudsman's ruling recommending full transparency around tobacco industry lobbying.
So, the PM's is in. The Chancellor's too, but a bit trimmed. Boris' is much bigger. Corbyn's was late. Many are unremarkable.
What real difference has it made that that our political leaders have published details of their tax affairs?
Not a lot.
Should we be demanding more: that all politicians publish annually? What about the tax affairs of politicians' family members? As the Panama papers have shown, offshoring money isn't something people necessarily do under their own name. It's done through spouses, trusted friends and by parents.
The risk of going down this path, as Aditya Chakrabortty noted earlier this week, is that the publication of politicians' tax returns will descend into a morass of semi-titillating detail.... [but] will miss the wider truth.'
Twelve months ago the government introduced new rules that promised to let us see which lobbyists are having a quiet word with our politicians. So, on the anniversary of the launch of the UK's lobbying register, how much more do we know about who is leaning on our politicians?
Not very much. As predicted by everyone, the register is failing to ‘shine the light of transparency on lobbying,’ as promised by David Cameron.
Test your knowledge first with our 'who's lobbying' quiz!
Over a quarter of the 124 lobbying firms that made the effort to register, don’t declare a single client. So, don't bother trying to find out from the register whose interests arch-networker Roland Rudd is representing. (Rudd is one of the UK's best-connected lobbyists: he's been mates with Prime Ministers; is brother of current Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd; and the man behind the main anti-Brexit campaign, Britain Stronger in Europe).
From other sources, we know that Finsbury’s busy lobbying for the scandal-hit car maker, VW; under-fire bookmaker, Paddy Power, and tax-lite tech giant, Google, a firm that spent $17m and $4.5m lobbying Washington and Brussels respectively.
The absence of clients is down to the government’s very tightly drawn definition of what constitutes lobbying. Under the rules, only if a lobbyist directly contacts a minister on behalf of a client, do they need to declare that client on the register. Lobbying of anyone else in government, including special advisers, is exempt, as is all lobbying by corporations themselves.