There couldn’t be a more stark illustration of what is wrong with our current political system – and why Jeremy Corbyn might break the mould – than this: the UK’s commercial lobbyists are in a huff because, for once (in the last 20 years, at least), they don’t have privileged access to the new Labour leader.
Lobbyists are used to having an inside track with politicians. They are paid to have relationships with, if not the politician, then their circle of advisors and allies. With Corbyn, they don’t. This poses a problem for them and their clients. It’s how they get their information and influence.
To be clear, there are obviously lobbyists that do have a direct line to camp Corbyn, notably some unions and a select group of NGOs and campaigners. What we’re talking about here, though, is the for-profit lobbyists-for-hire.
These political players, who work mainly for corporations, are a key part of the reason why 60 per cent of people in the UK think our government is 'entirely' or 'to a large extent' run by a few big entities acting in their own best interests. They also contribute to the belief among two thirds of the population that political parties in the UK are 'corrupt' or 'extremely corrupt', which surely helped Corbyn to victory.
“I know of nobody in the industry who is a Corbynite,’ one senior lobbyist told Public Affairs News’ David Singleton. He goes on to write: ‘Consultancies with strong links to Team Corbyn can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And you might still have five fingers spare.’
The industry’s trade mag recently found just one self-confessed Corbyn supporter among the 3-4000 commercial lobbyists working in and around Westminster.
Which begs the question: how on earth are these paid influencers going to sway the views and policies of HM Opposition?
(Note, lobbyists often work all parties, not just the one, or two in power. It helps them leverage change, plus they need to make sure relationships are solid with rising shadow ministers just in case they should ever be in government, which some lobbyists see as an unlikely event in the case of Team Corbyn).
The UK’s £2bn lobbying industry does have its fair share of lobbyists with Labour ties, but unsurprisingly, they tend to have come from the Blairite end of the party. Darren Murphy, for example, was a former special adviser to Blair and is now a director with Bell Pottinger (this is the lobbying firm that was employed by Assad’s wife). There's also Portland boss and former deputy to Alastair Campbell, Tim Allan (a man who really, actually has been under paid contract to Putin).
Plenty of these lobbyists will no doubt be out in force at the Labour Party conference at the end of this month. The corporate sponsorship – the business stands, receptions, roundtables, lanyard advertising and branding of ‘pillars, stair risers and flagpoles’ – was all booked long before Corbyn’s rise.
A bun fight at conference’s annual business reception, however, is unlikely. As one Labour lobbyist told PAN: “The idea that the Labour party under Jeremy becomes a beast that no-one can deal with is completely ridiculous”.
How then should lobbyists go about influencing Labour under Corbyn? Nick Laitner, MD at prominent lobbying firm MHP, has a cunning plan. Predicting divisions within the party, Laitner advocates ‘picking off individual MPs and factions within the Party... to ensure support for an issue or policy.’
I have another suggestion for the UK’s corporate lobbyists. Jeremy Corbyn has said that his first PMQs will be crowdsourced. He has invited members of the public to suggest questions that they would like the PM to answer. Why not submit your clients’ policy ideas to him this way.
‘Mr Corbyn, could you ask David Cameron if my client can have another tax break?’; ‘Jeremy, could you ask the Prime Minister when private companies will be allowed to run schools for profit?’; or ‘Could you demand that the government overrides the will of communities and allows us to frack the nation now, please?’
Their questions may be chosen. Or Corbyn may think that other, more pressing issues require the PM’s attention.
In the meantime, they can always call up one of their former colleagues/personal friends/relatives in the Conservative Party. Have a quiet word in their ear. They’re always pretty attentive.
Or, join the orderly queue of people wanting to talk to Corbyn.
Today we publish our latest report: How Israel attempts to mislead the United Nations: Deconstructing Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian Return Centre.
The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), an NGO based in London, was granted special consultative status at the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) by the Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations on 1 June 2015. Since then, Israeli government officials and affiliated civil society organisations have actively lobbied ECOSOC members to reverse this decision, based on Israel’s allegation that the PRC is affiliated with Hamas.
This brief study examines the Israeli-led campaign against the PRC, critically analysing the ‘intelligence report’ that is cited by Israeli officials and related civil society organisations as justification for linking the PRC with Hamas. We find that the allegations in this report are based on circumstantial evidence and remain unproven.
Written by Sarah Marusek and Davd Miller, this study also uncovers that a network of pro-Israel and anti-Muslim groups in the United States are funding the civil society organisations campaigning against the PRC. These groups, including charities, think tanks and media, are not disparate and unrelated to each other; they are connected through key individuals, share funders and uncritically reproduce the same Israeli government views.
You can download a pdf of the report here.
It is a strange fact, but if you believe the pronouncements of PR and law firms in Brussels and the rest of the EU, almost none of them are lobbying on one of the biggest issues of the day, the prospective EU-US free trade agreement Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP.
A naive observer might wonder why all these lobbyists and lawyers would miss out on what must be some of the most lucrative contracts around: pushing corporate interests in the TTIP negotiations, while selling the controversial trade deal to an increasingly concerned public.
In reality, this shyness to declare pro-TTIP lobbying is highly unlikely to reflect the real situation, given that private interest groups overwhelmingly dominated the European Commission's TTIP consultations: 9 out of 10 lobby contacts during the preparatory phase of the negotiations were with companies and corporate lobby groups (see here and here). It's clear from these figures that someone certainly is lobbying heavily for TTIP, but who?
In summer 2014 CEO undertook a survey to try and establish which law firms and lobby consultancies were willing to be transparent about their lobbying on TTIP. The shyness over disclosure was notable: no law firms admitted to doing any lobbying on TTIP at all. Overall, 66 per cent of lobbyists and law firms CEO contacted refused to say whether they were lobbying on TTIP and 88 per cent refused to say who they were lobbying on behalf of. (See Appendix for CEO's detailed survey of law and lobby firms on the issue.)
The fact that the prospective EU-US free trade agreement is only growing in controversy may be a large reason why lobbyists continue to be so reluctant to talk.
‘The whole point of our NHS reforms,’ David Cameron said, is ‘to put the power in the hands of local doctors, so that they make decisions based on what is good for their local area.’
That is tosh. Yes, most of the NHS budget was handed to GPs, who are now – phase 2 – handing it over to private corporations.
It is private firms who will determine how and where the NHS budget will be spent (through a process known in NHS speak as commissioning).
Everything from deciding which hospitals stay open, which services are still available on the NHS, and who provides these services, the NHS or the private sector.
As the Observer reveals this morning, the list of approved suppliers bidding for this work – the planning and buying of care – has just quietly been released.
The list is dominated by management consultancies, outsourcing giant, Capita, and US health insurer, UnitedHealth, the previous employer of NHS CEO, Simon Stevens.
(The graphic above is this list broken down into main suppliers. A high res version is here).
Last year, Spinwatch uncovered how UnitedHealth’s lobbyist, Chris Exeter, chaired a discreet forum, the Commissioning Support Industry Group, giving these firms regular privileged access to senior NHS officials overseeing the creation of this new market in ‘commissioning services’.
Capita was another member of the group, as were KPMG, PwC, EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and McKinsey.
There are nine consortia set up to ‘supply’ local health purchasing decisions. UnitedHealth, Capita, KPMG and PwC are now approved suppliers to two thirds of them. McKinsey and EY are suppliers to half of them.
These companies (and others) will supply GP commissioners with key services that have until now been done by the NHS for the NHS: planning services; managing relationships and contracts with healthcare providers, like hospitals; and crucially deciding what the NHS will look like in the future – what NHS England calls ‘transformation and service redesign’.
GP groups will be forced to re-procure a lot of these services by April 2016 (apparently in order to comply with EU procurement law). It is thought that, consequently, between £3-5billion of services will be bought through these consortia.
The privatisation of commissioning hands the private sector more power, more influence and potentially a lot more of the NHS budget.
It also presents potentially huge conflicts of interest, with private companies like United Health bidding to take charge of local health budgets at the same time as it is increasingly looking to provide the healthcare those budgets pay for.
UnitedHealth, for example, is bidding for the biggest privatisation in NHS history, Staffordshire’s £1.2bn contract to run cancer and end-of-life care. Are rules in place to prevent any conflicts of interest?
The approved list of suppliers also includes a number of commercial lobbying firms working for private healthcare clients seeking to make money out of the NHS.
Take commercial lobbying agency Hanover, which is part of a consortia led by UnitedHealth. Hanover’s head of health is lobbyist Andrew Harrison, a former aide to Labour’s privatising health secretary, Alan Milburn and an ex-colleague of the man currently holding the NHS purse-strings, Simon Stevens.
Hanover has been UnitedHealth’s lobbying agency for years. Another recent client is HCA, the huge private hospital operator that had to pay $1.7bn in US fraud settlements in 2003. HCA has a few ‘joint ventures’ with the NHS, but wants more. Hanover also bends ministerial ears on behalf of the US pharmaceutical lobby group, the American Pharmaceutical Group. Another long-standing client is Alliance Medical, which paid ‘cash-for-access’ Tory MP Malcolm Rifkind to sit on its board and recently won an £80 million contract to run cancer scans across England (despite a rival NHS group claiming their bid was £7 million cheaper).
Hanover, which as an approved supplier is now in line to provide “communications services” to local health bosses, already serves a number of NHS bodies. It provides the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes with ‘reputation management’, and advises on ‘managing relationships with key stakeholders’, for example.
Hanover aren’t the only commercial lobbyists on the list faced with potential conflicts of interests.
Engine is in another of the private sector consortia, MBED. Engine is actually a group of communications companies, which includes lobbying agency MHP. The firm has long been a favorite of healthcare companies. Until recently, their star turn was Bill Morgan, who was Andrew Lansley’s right-hand man.
MHP’s roster of clients contains all the big names in pharmaceuticals, and some drug-funded health charities. Since 1999, Engine has also worked for Bupa, including providing the private health company with ‘business consultancy’ and support for its e-Health programmes (using computers to both collect health data and provide healthcare and monitoring).
Global business consultants FTI Consulting are a part of half of the consortia that GP local health bosses will now be encouraged to use.
FTI claims to have years of experience creating campaigns to ‘protect clients’ political and policy interests’. Who they lobby for in the UK isn’t known, but in the US clients include the lobby group for the private health insurance industry, America’s Health Insurance Plans; the Biotechnology Industry Organisation; and the health insurer AXA. In Brussels, FTI stands up for private health insurer, Prudential; lots of pharmaceutical companies, plus the European Association for Biotech industries.
Then there’s EY, formerly Ernst & Young, another global consultancy firm that is poised to help direct how and where the NHS spends its money. EY are – you guessed it – lobbyists for private health companies. EY has just registered Prudential as a client on the UK’s new register of lobbyists. The Pru is also a US lobbying client, as are Zurich and AIG; Pfizer; and every NHS-leader’s favorite US healthcare firm, Kaiser Permanente.
PwC, which is a supplier to most of the consortia, has registered itself on the UK’s register of lobbyists, meaning it lobbies ministers on behalf of (as yet un-named) clients. PwC is looking to increase its position in what it sees as the UK’s growing, commercial market in healthcare. ‘The health industry in the UK offers strong opportunities for growth in the wider economy and for PwC,’ said chair of PwC’s advisory board, former health secretary, Alan Milburn.
McKinsey, a supplier to five of the groups on offer to GPs, earns most of its revenue from advising corporations: health insurers, private hospital groups, pharmaceutical companies, tech interests and investors. Emails show that it was sharing its thinking on the implications of the Coalition’s NHS reforms ‘with clients’. Who they are, and what McKinsey does for them, though, is confidential. McKinsey also appears to act as a bridge between the public and private sectors. More documents show the consultants connecting London’s health officials with one of Germany’s largest private hospital chains to discuss ‘potential opportunities’ to take over public hospitals in the capital. McKinsey also advised them how to minimise public resistance to the privatisation of hospitals: start ‘from a mindset [of] one at a time’.
Then there’s KPMG, a supplier of services to six of the nine approved groups. Official spending data shows how much work has already been sent KPMG’s way by the NHS-led consortia. From September 2013 to March 2014, it picked up £3.5m from them. One group on the list, the Arden & Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit (GEM) paid KPMG over a quarter of a million pounds a month in the first six months of 2014 for services, including work on a £500k ‘enhanced analytics’ project, and supporting ‘specialised commissioning’.
KPMG has itself subcontracted some of this work to UnitedHealth (via another unnamed company), according to a Freedom of Information release. There is no contract between GEM and UnitedHealth, showing just how opaque this new system is with its corporate supply chains, but NHS-front.
At the same time, KPMG is engaged with the private healthcare sector. Addressing a conference of healthcare companies and investors in New York in 2010, Mark Britnell, head of KPMG’s UK health division, spoke of the private sector opportunities presented by the UK’s health reforms: "The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years," he advised the attending companies.
Britnell was speaking a year into his job at KPMG, which he joined from the Department of Health where he was director general in charge of commissioning. Britnell was the architect of what we see today: the privatisation of commissioning.
Back in 2010, the BBC reported the Coalition’s reforms of the NHS as 'handing funding powers to GPs'.
And now they are being told to hand it to the private sector. These corporations will determine what the NHS will be like for future generations.
The foxes have control.
The parties all have different positions on lobbying transparency. Which is the best, and which the worst? (Updated)
Whoever wins the election, lobbyists will be first in line with the congratulations.
And those with the best political connections to the next party, or parties, in government will be at the front of the queue.
They'll all have questions: will the newly-elected government honour its public and private pledges; will the lobbyists get what they want from any coalition negotiations; which policies – privatisation, fracking, free schools – will be sped up, slowed down, or scrapped by the result?
Lobbyists are paid to be on top of the detail, and to be first to have a quiet word.
Whether or not we will be allowed to know anything about any of this lobbying post election will be dependent on how we vote.
The manifestos are out, and the parties all have very different positions when it comes to opening up lobbying to public scrutiny.
We’ve ranked them from good to bad.
- The Green Party comes out top. It has long supported a robust register of lobbyists, and its 2015 manifesto includes a pledge to ‘ensure that all lobbying, and in particular corporate lobbying, is registered and fully disclosed, including lobbying of elected politicians and of civil servants’. It also says they’ll get rid of the government’s Lobbying Act, which introduced a fake register of lobbyists while restricting campaigning by charities.
- Plaid Cymru is another that is pledging to repeal at least the bit of the Lobbying Act that gags charities (it also needs to get rid of the section introducing the register of lobbyists, and start again, so bad is it). It also says it will 'ensure that the lobbying system is genuinely transparent with appropriate access to all', which sounds like a dig at the current fake register introduced by the Coalition.
- Thin on detail from the SNP, but a clear statement in favour of transparency. Its manifesto says the SNP will 'support strict rules on lobbying'. Like the other opposition parties, it would also do away with the recently imposed restrictions on campaigning charities.
- Labour also promises to repeal the Lobbying Act, and ‘replace it with a tougher statutory register of lobbyists’. The important word here, though, is tougher. Not tough. Labour’s proposal only goes halfway to solving the problem. It is good in that it has pledged to force all paid lobbyists to register and operate in the open, rather than the small fraction covered by the Coalition’s newly launched register. It is bad, very bad, though, that Labour’s version of a register of lobbyists will not require lobbyists to divulge anything of their lobbying activity, in other words, who they are lobbying in government and what they are lobbying for. Under Labour’s proposals, we will be able to see lobbyists running around Westminster, but the sound will be turned off. (A clear ban on MPs holding paid directorships and consultancies is an additional and welcome pledge).
- The Lib Dem’s position is vague and not helped by its track record on the issue. The Lobbying Act is proudly listed in their manifesto’s ‘Record of Delivery’: a law that was memorably called a ‘dog’s breakfast’ by one senior politician; which ‘brought Parliament into disrepute’ and ‘showed contempt for the public’ as it was whisked through the House by Lib Dem minister Tom Brake; and which introduced a bogus register of lobbyists. This much, at least, is partly acknowledged in the manifesto, which commits them to ‘strengthening and expanding the lobbying register’. A further pledge to give careful consideration to a review of the rest of the Lobbying Act, with its attack on charities, suggests that it wasn’t their proudest moment. Finally, the Lib Dems have said they would ‘prohibit MPs from accepting paid lobbying work’, which strictly speaking MPs are already banned from doing under existing rules.
- The Conservatives are making no more promises to ‘sort it out’, lobbying that is, as David Cameron did in the run up to the 2010 election. As far as they are concerned, it's sorted. ‘We addressed public concern about the influence of money on politics, with a law that established a register of consultant lobbyists’. Anyone still a bit worried? Deal with it. The manifesto goes on: ‘We will continue to be the most transparent government in the world,’ which starts to make them sound deluded. Given that the Tories introduced a genuinely fake register of lobbyists, and only then after one too many lobbying scandals, it is blindingly clear now – if for a moment it wasn't 5 years ago – that the Tories are opposed to lobbying transparency. They do not want us to see who is lobbying them, or about what.
- UKIP appears to have nothing to say on lobbying transparency.
The battle is on for the future of the NHS. Apparently. Ed Miliband came out hard, declaring he will ‘put patients before profits and stop the privatisation’. David Cameron’s camp countered with a commitment to fully fund the next wave of NHS reforms.
Like pro-wrestling, it’s a good show, but a phoney fight.
How can you tell? Just look at the players sitting round this table.
When Milburn was in charge of the NHS from 1999 to 2003 he pushed through many of the ‘reforms’ that the Conservative party have merely accelerated. His team at the time consisted of policy adviser Simon Stevens; private secretary Tony Sampson; and media adviser, Andrew Harrison.
With little fanfare, Westminster’s official Register of Consultant Lobbyists has launched. It was a rather muted and low-key affair considering the high-profile stories and scandals we have witnessed in relation to lobbying over the last few weeks.
We have seen The Guardian revealing that nearly 20 per cent of staff members employed by MPs and peers also have lobbying or outside interests. The tobacco industry has been trying to influence the recent vote on plain packaging. And then of course there was the Channel 4 Dispatches 'cash-for-access' documentary featuring Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
Meet the shadowy team at the heart of many of the most controversial NHS privatisations to date, including the Staffordshire deal leaked last week to openDemocracy.
'Despite our warnings about the risks... no one has been held accountable for the consequences.'
That was the fierce criticism last week from watchdog Margaret Hodge MP and her Public Accounts Committee of the failed flagship privatisation of Hinchingbrooke hospital.
No-one can hold Circle Holdings accountable. On the day inspectors gave the hospital they were running, the worst rating for ‘caring’ of any hospital in the country, the firm announced they were giving up and walking away, three years into the ten year contract.
The UK register of lobbyists has finally launched, only five years after Cameron and Clegg promised to 'regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists’.
The government’s version of the register does nothing of the sort. It is a genuinely fake register. It will not ‘make clear who is lobbying the Government and for whom’, so ‘ensuring greater transparency’ in our political system, as promised. This is government ticking a box.
Even so, we were curious to find out what the register looked like 24 hours after ‘launch’. You can find it here.
So far, 11 lobbying firms have signed up; listing a total of 23 clients.
Organisers of a major pro-Israel conference taking place in London this weekend have been vetting the political views of those registered to attend - and banned me from attending, explicitly citing Spinwatch's 2013 report on BICOM (the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre) as the reason.
As a researcher examining the pro-Israel lobby in the UK, I signed up to attend, making no attempt to conceal my identity.
But those behind the 22 March 'We Believe in Israel' conference, staged by a body of the same name which declares itself the 'grassroots' arm of BICOM - the UK’s major pro-Israel lobby group - wrote to me to say my “application” to attend had not been accepted.
Conversely, organisations with links to the transnational Islamophobia industry appear to have been welcomed with open arms.
According to its self-description, the event (expected to attract up to 1,500 people) will be 'broad-based and inclusive' and 'open to anyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, and from across the political spectrum, who supports the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security'.
But I appear to have been designated persona non grata because I believe that peace and security need to be sought by investing in justice, not hasbara (propaganda), and will only be achieved when the Israeli state ceases to trample over Palestinians’ human, political and civil rights.
The refusal letter I received cited Spinwatch's report 'against' BICOM, a reference to "The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre: Giving Peace a Chance?”, published in 2013.
That study was indeed highly critical of BICOM. It concluded that its activities serve only to 'encourage a skewed perception of the conflict amongst elites' by maintaining the façade that Israel is struggling to make peace while simultaneously “insulating them from pressure to support Palestinian rights” (in line with the desires of its main funder, billionaire Poju Zabludowicz).