The past two days has seen the UK's education reform movement gathered in London. The Education Reform Summit 2014 was co-hosted by the Department for Education and a small think tank called the Education Foundation. Some on Twitter have been curious about this organisation, so here is a short extract from the 'education reform' chapter of our recent book, 'A Quiet Word', which takes a look at the extensive lobbying activities of the 'education reform movement' on both sides of the Atlantic. 

From 'A Quiet Word':

Set up in 2011, The Education Foundation is described by its co-founder Ty Goddard as a think tank and reform organisation. It has, however, a particular focus on technology as a driver of reform. It hosts an ed-tech incubator programme, for example, to bring classroom products to scale. Google and Facebook are both advisers to the project.

The Education Foundation does not publish its financial backers, although it says it is funded by charitable foundations and leading businesses through its research, sponsored events and specific projects. Those named on its website include Google, which sponsored its first birthday bash, McKinsey, for which it hosted an event, and a collaboration with Facebook and the Gates Foundation on an education-centred ‘hackathon’, aimed at building experimental apps for schools.

The group has ties with the reform lobby in the US, from whose experience it is keen to learn. Goddard, for example, was visited in London by American lobbyists to discuss strategies on ‘growing the UK education reform movement’. Among those visiting was a lobbyist from US reform group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. 

This is an organisation that aggressively promotes online schools. It is financed by, among others, Gates and others in the billionaires’ club, as well as Pearson and Amplify, News Corp education arm. In 2013, Michael Gove, on one of his many trips to the US, delivered the keynote speech at the foundation’s annual conference. Topics discussed included ‘extreme choices through digital learning’ and ‘the art of communicating education reform’. 

The Foundation for Excellence is run by Jeb Bush, brother of George. Bush is a keen advocate of virtual schooling, which has been pioneered in his home state of Florida. His foundation has come in for criticism, primarily for working with US public officials to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders. It has also been accused of providing ‘a dating service for corporations selling educational products – including virtual schools – to school chiefs’. Goddard, though, sees Bush as a ‘pioneer’. The US delegation spent their time visiting UK academies and meeting with senior Department for Education officials. They even had a policy discussion in Number 10.

The Education Foundation also hosted a meeting of twenty-five education reform lobby groups in Washington, part-funded by the British government. Again, the purpose was to learn lessons from their US colleagues on how to secure system reform and introduce more ‘innovation’ to schools. It included some familiar names in the US privatisation / reform lobby: Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. 


To find out more about the lobbying activity of these and other groups in the education reform movement, both in the UK and US, read Chapter 9: 'Reform: Opportunities to Profit' from 'A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain', published by Random House, March 2014.



 

The exclusive Hurlingham private members club, where Tories and wealthy donors dined
The exclusive Hurlingham private members club, where Tories and wealthy donors dined

On the eve of the Conservative Party’s annual fundraising dinner, the Guardian today reveals last year’s secret guest list and, with it, the murky world of political donations and lobbying.

The Conservative Party intended the list to remain private. Despite promises by this government to be 'the most transparent in the world', the public aren’t to know the company that they keep. 

But, as the final preparations are made for tonight’s fundraiser at the Hurlingham private members’ club in west London, documents passed to TBIJ show the web of bankers, businesspeople, foreign interests and lobbyists that twelve months ago pressed the flesh with Conservative politicians. 

Among those that David Cameron and members of the Cabinet spent the evening with are:

  • Howard Shore, a banker with interests in shale gas who sat on a table with David and Samantha Cameron and who hosted another table with the energy minister Michael Fallon.
  • Russian business men tasked with improving the country’s reputation in the UK, including Vladamir Putin’s judo partner, Vasily Shestakov.
  • Former Goldman Sachs banker and onetime Conservative donor, Richard Sharp, who sits on the Bank of England’s independent finance policy committee.
  • Nineteen lobbyists and PRs, most of whom don’t reveal their clients, but who are known to have represented Gulf states, fracking firms, oligarchs and banking giants.

Buying a seat at a minister’s table provides these already influential and advantaged individuals – there was an estimated total wealth in the room last year of £11bn – with an opportunity to forge relationships with our politicians, demonstrate their support for the party, and crucially open discussions with Ministers about their concerns.

The consequences of such a system – one that provides private access for the wealthy and well connected, while everyone else is excluded – are all around us. 

To find out more: A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell is published by Bodley Head. 

Bob Neill (left) at a lobbying agency reception
Bob Neill (left) at a lobbying agency reception

Here’s a little test for the government’s statutory lobbying register (when it eventually arrives). 

Bob Neill, former Planning Minister has taken a job with a lobbying agency that has so far refused to sign up to any of the voluntary registers that the statutory register will replace. 

This means that his new employer, planning specialist Cratus Communcations, does not currently declare its clients, which include housebuilders and developers. 

Nor would it – probably – under the government’s new statutory system given the enormous loopholes. Nearly 40% of agency lobbyists (the only section of the industry that is covered by the new legislation) say they won’t have to register and declare their clients, as they “never” have direct face-to-face engagement with ministers or permanent secretaries (one of the criteria that triggers the requirement to register). Only 9% of agency lobbyists say they meet ministers or permanent secretaries regularly. The rest only do so occasionally. 

This means that Cratus Communications, which now employs a Tory ex-minister that less than two years ago was responsible for local government and planning, is unlikely to start declaring who it is lobbying for any time soon. We’ll be as much in the dark as we are now. 

“We must be the party that sorts all this out,” David Cameron said of lobbying in the run up to the last general election, singling out the problem of ‘ex-ministers for hire”. 

What he’s done instead is give us a sham register. 

Israel Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at an EFI-organised lunch with MEPs in the EU Parliament in February 2014
Israel Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at an EFI-organised lunch with MEPs in the EU Parliament in February 2014

In part two of his investigation into Europe's most powerful pro-Israel lobby group, David Cronin examines its corporate backers and efforts to boost trade ties with Israel.

The European Friends of Israel (EFI) has always been able to count on support from high-ranking entrepreneurs.  After his death in August 2013, EFI issued a terse tribute to Yaron (Ronny) Bruckner, describing this Belgian investor as one of the group's founders. Bruckner had established Eastbridge, a Luxembourg-registered firm specialising in property and consumer goods that, according to its promotional material, manages more than €1.5 billion worth of assets. For much of his professional life, Bruckner had concentrated on Europe, yet had become more active in the US during the last decade of his life. In 2011, Eastbridge snapped up a Manhattan skyscraper that had previously housed the insurance giant AIG.

A document filed with the Belgian authorities states that Bruckner was formally nominated an administrator of the EFI in November 2011. 1  That document stipulates, too, that EFI members may pay an annual subscription of up to €5 million. That was a massive increase on the €1,000-per-year threshold for subscriptions which the EFI set on its inception.2  The increase indicates that EFI has been largely funded by its corporate backers.

On the eve of Europe's elections, in a two-part investigation for Spinwatch, writer David Cronin looks at the origins and connections of the most influential Zionist lobby group in Brussels.

Under David Cameron's leadership, the Conservative Party has often conveyed the impression that it wanted Britain to disengage from the European Union. The impression jars with reality on at least one crucial issue of foreign policy: relations with Israel.

One little-known fact is that it was a few Tories who took the initiative to form what has become arguably the most influential Zionist lobby group in Brussels.  European Friends of Israel (EFI) was established in 2006 by those who had been active in a similar outfit within the Conservative Party.

The EFI's chief instigator, Stuart Polak, had been director of Conservatives Friends of Israel (CFI) since 1989 (a position he still holds).  Named one of the UK's 100 most influential right-wing figures by The Daily Telegraph in 2007, he has been credited with doing more than anyone else in promoting Israel's case among British conservatives.  As a pressure group within Westminster, the CFI is perhaps unparalleled in terms of its clout. By its own estimates, 80 per cent of Tory MPs are signed up to it. These include a number of cabinet ministers: William Hague, the foreign secretary, joined CFI during the 1970s, when he was still a teenager.

Hannu Takkula, a Finnish Liberal MEP who has been involved with the European Friends of Israel since the beginning, confirmed that it is modelled on the Conservative Friends of Israel. A number of MEPs held discussions with representatives of the British Conservatives, he said, about forming a pro-Israel alliance that would act as a counterbalance to the Palestine solidarity movement, which according to Takkula, was ‘very strong’.  He added that ‘some guys visited here’ (Brussels) from the Conservatives to explain how the CFI operated. 1

At least three Tory MEPs - Charles Tannock, Geoffrey Van Orden and Timothy Kirkhope - can be seen in a video filmed at the launch of EFI in September 2006.  In a speech to that dinner, Tannock said: ‘We have been working very hard in the European Parliament for a number of years to build up a network of friends and tonight this is the realisation of our hard work.’

Tannock, a foreign affairs specialist, sat on the EFI's political board between 2006 and 2011.  Despite the clear suggestion in his speech that he had personally taken part in some of the preparations for the EFI's establishment, Tannock's office denied he had done so.  After repeated requests for a comment, his assistant replied that Tannock was ‘not involved in the setting-up of EFI at its inception nor was he involved with the idea of launching the group’. 2

Van Orden, a retired brigadier-general in the British Army who served in NATO's headquarters during the 1990s, refused to answer questions about what precise role he played in the EFI's early stages. Contacted by telephone, he alleged that I had ‘put something obnoxious’ about him on the Wikipedia website.  When I insisted that I had never done such a thing, he said: ‘Or someone did on your behalf’.  Following a vague threat - ‘I'll be in touch with you about that’ - he hung up.3 (For the record, I was unaware that the page devoted to Van Orden on Wikipedia referred to one of my articles until he drew this to my attention.  Far from being ‘obnoxious’, the article in question simply stated that Van Orden was ‘especially close to the arms industry’. That assertion was no more than a paraphrasing of Van Orden's own words: in October 2013, he told me that as a Conservative spokesman on defence issues, he was ‘a strong advocate for UK industry, including the arms industry’). 4

Papers filed with the Belgian authorities state that EFI was officially established as a not-for-profit association by Stuart Polak, along with Marc Cogen, a Belgian academic, and Jean-Pierre Haber, a veteran Brussels official. Its stated objective was to ‘unify’ the various pro-Israel groups within the national parliaments of EU countries by coordinating their activities. Such groups would be linked to one in the European Parliament, according to these papers. 5

Neoconservative hue

Throughout its history, EFI has enjoyed some success in straddling the political divisions within the European Parliament. Its supporters range from individual Greens to the extreme-right - although it has generally been shunned by MEPs from the far-left.  Nonetheless, the participation of Marc Cogen meant that it had a neoconservative hue.

Cogen had offered his unequivocal backing to the ‘war on terror’ declared by George W. Bush. His status as a professor of international law did not stop Cogen from trying to justify America's trampling on the rights of due process. For example, he has argued that the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay was permissible on the grounds that ‘members of private armies’ should be ‘tried outside the common criminal justice system’.  He praised Israel for enabling the use of similar practices through its approval of a law on ‘unlawful combatants’ in 2002.  In January 2009, he and several politicians signed a letter to Flemish newspapers defending Israel's attack on Gaza.  

Both Polak and Cogen stepped down as administrators of the EFI in November 2011. 6  The previous year Cogen was reportedly suspended from his teaching post in the University of Ghent for ‘inappropriate behaviour’.  He was subsequently hired by the VUB, the main Dutch-language university in Brussels.   Cogen did not respond to requests for a comment but a colleague of his at VUB confirmed that he is still working there. 7

Cogen remains in contact with the Zionist lobby. The 2013 annual report of NGO Monitor lists him as a member of its legal advisory board.8 Run by Israeli academic Gerard Steinberg, NGO Monitor is dedicated to preserving Israel as an apartheid state, in which Palestinians face systematic discrimination. It campaigns against the public financing of human rights and peace activists who promote a ‘one-state solution’ based on full equality for Jews, Muslims, Christians and non-believers, accusing such activists of striving to ‘eliminate’ Israel.

Jean-Pierre Haber has a lower profile than the other founders of EFI. Now living in the south of France, he has considerable knowledge about the inner workings of the EU institutions.  From 1973 to 1984, he was an economics adviser to the European Progressive Democrats - then a political group in the European Parliament that included the French Gaullist party and Ireland's Fianna Fáil. 

Perhaps more importantly for a propaganda outfit like the EFI, Haber is considered something of an authority on promoting the EU.  According to his curriculum vitae, he once headed the Euro Information Centres, a network of offices that provides assistance to small firms.  He also sat on a panel of ‘experts’ on communications policy appointed by Jacques Delors, the European Commission's then president, in the early 1990s. Haber drafted that committee's final report. Unintentionally comical, the report complained of how too many of the statements issued in Brussels were replete with ‘incomprehensible jargon’ before recommending that a project aimed at making the European Union hip could be based on a slogan in the ancient language of Latin.

Arms industry connections

Such a ham-fisted approach to what is often misleadingly termed ‘public relations’ does not seem to have reduced Haber's appeal to European Friends of Israel. For it is important to stress that EFI is more concerned with shaping elite opinion than that of the wider public.

That might explain why EFI has been supported by those who benefit from activities that most decent people would find repulsive. During the first nine months of 2006, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) reported a profit of $115 million, a 247 per cent increase over the same period in 2005. As one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Israeli military, IAI evidently did well from the attack on Lebanon in the summer of that year. The offensive enabled Israel to ‘battle-test’ its armed drones for the first time.   Since then IAI has become one of the world's top drone manufacturers.

IAI (then called Israel Aircraft Industries) was among the sponsors for the EFI's launch; the company's information stall can be seen in a video taken at the event.  Stuart Polak, meanwhile, doubles up as an arms industry lobbyist. The Westminster Connection, a consulting firm that he set up, puts ‘defence’ at the top of the list of the sectors to which it has provided advice.  Elbit, another Israeli warplane-maker, has been named by The Sunday Times as one of his clients.

EFI's leading figures are reluctant to admit that they have received support from the arms industry. Gunnar Hökmark, a Swedish conservative MEP who was the first chairman of the EFI's political board, declined to be interviewed.  When Hökmark was asked by email if he had any concerns about IAI's participation in the group's launch, his adviser replied: ‘It is profoundly insulting to believe that Mr Hökmark's deeply-felt support and engagement for the people who have been most persecuted and discriminated against in the world throughout history would have anything at all to do with who paid for a dinner five, six, seven years ago or whenever.’ 

Tannock's assistant stated that the British MEP did not have ‘anything to do with the fundraising at any time nor did he have detailed knowledge of all the sponsors of EFI events. And he was not aware, if it is the case, that Israeli defence contractors were closely involved with EFI as you seem to suggest when he was involved with the group between 2006 and 2011.’

Secrecy

Like most Israel lobby groups, EFI does not publish details of its donors. Marek Siwiec, a Polish Social Democrat MEP who chairs the EFI's political board at the time of writing, contended that it is a ‘transparent organisation’. Yet he refused to reveal how it is funded.

Although EFI has held quite a few events on the European Parliament's premises and been able to avail of that institution's facilities, it is not subject to the same rules covering other cross-party alliances (‘intergroups’ in Brussels parlance).  Administrators of those ad hoc alliances - dealing with subjects as diverse as hunting, Tibet and minority languages - are required to declare all financial support which they receive.  As EFI  functions largely in the same way as those ‘intergroups’, I asked Martin Schulz, the European Parliament's president, why it wasn't registered as one. His office referred my question to a ‘citizens' enquiries unit’, which claimed that the EFI is an ‘informal grouping’ comprised of both MEPs and representatives of national parliaments.  EFI's ‘informal’ nature means it publishes neither a full list of politicians affiliated to it nor even rudimentary details of how it is funded.

An EFI staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that it relies on ‘private donors from Europe and Israel’.  The source admitted that one of these donors has been Alexander Machkevitch, a mining magnate with dual Kazakh and Israeli citizenship. Machkevitch's support had been limited to ‘a single project’, the source claimed: financing a visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank for a few hundred MEPs and members of national parliaments in February 2011. That visit was described as ‘the largest ever mass gathering of European parliamentarians in Israel’ by The Jerusalem Post.

EFI did not sign up to an official register of ‘interest representatives’ (a synonym for lobbyists) until August 2011 - almost five years after the group's inception. While it is not mandatory for lobbyists working in Brussels to join this database, they have been offered incentives to do so. Most significantly, obtaining an access badge to the European Parliament is effectively conditional on taking this step.

EFI's entry in the register is scant on details.  It says that the organisation had a total budget of €400,000 in 2012, all of which came from donations.  Intriguingly, it maintained that less than €50,000 of that sum was directly spent on ‘representing interests to the EU institutions’.  Six staff members had been granted access badges for the European Parliament.  These included its director Elinadav Heymann, an Israeli who had previously been a foreign policy adviser to Britain's Conservatives and their colleagues from several other right-leaning parties in the European Parliament, and who had served as an Israeli Air Force ‘intelligence analyst’.

In 2011, I asked EFI if it received any money from Zionist organisations in the US. ‘I promise you 100 per cent that no [we do not receive such funding],’ an EFI spokesman said

Yet in a form submitted to America's Internal Revenue Service for the 2009 tax year, the New York-based Near East Forum stated that it had given $33,000 to the EFI.  When I contacted that forum's office, a staff member told me it supported ‘organisations in Europe that help Israel.’ Asked if the forum was Zionist in outlook, the staff member responded ‘I guess you could say that’.

The Near East Forum also gave $53,000 to the European Jewish Development Fund (EJDF) in Brussels that year.  Describing itself as ‘a source of centralised funding’ for projects that ‘promote Jewish pride’, the EJDF boasts of playing a ‘vital role in informing world leaders of the historical and current character of the Middle East and in lobbying on behalf of Israel’.  Just one outfit is listed under the ‘public affairs’ category in the ‘what we support’ section of the EJDF's website: European Friends of Israel.  

The EJDF was set up in 2004 by Moshe Garelik, an Italian-born rabbi with American citizenship.  Over the past decade, Garelik has helped make Zionists more visible in Brussels by forming a number of organisations. Among them are the European Jewish Community Centre. Ostensibly a meeting place for Jews working in Brussels' European quarter, its activities are not purely religious or cultural in nature.  On occasions, it has teamed up with EFI to host receptions to mark Jerusalem Day - an annual event celebrating Israel's 1967 capture of East Jerusalem - in the European Parliament. 

Garelik has quite literally given his blessing to Israel's crimes against humanity. In 2006, he toured Israeli army bases to emphasise his support for the attack then being conducted against Lebanon.  He reportedly tried to lift the spirits of Israeli soldiers with ‘holy words of encouragement’. 

EFI is not an exact replica of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most influential pressure groups in Washington.  In 2011, AIPAC raked in more than $70 million in donations and grants.   While there is much opacity surrounding the Zionist lobby this side of the Atlantic, it is safe to assume that no organisation within it commands a remotely similar war-chest. 

Some evidence of cooperation between EFI and AIPAC can nonetheless be found. Ranaan Eliaz, who had previously worked with the Israeli National Security Council advising prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, has stated that he was ‘instrumental’ in establishing  EFI. He had been a staff member of AIPAC in 2004.

Key players in EFI have clearly made a point of studying how AIPAC works. Dimitri Dombret, EFI's first director, confirmed to me in 2009 that he had met AIPAC representatives in Washington a number of times. More recently, EFI has sent as many as 70 delegates to the annual AIPAC conference.  Photographs posted on EFI's Facebook page show Elinadav Heymann, the group's current director, speaking at a side event held during the conference in March 2014.

Although EFI has not published the names of those who comprised these delegations, a note on its website states that they have boasted ‘leading parliamentarians, business executives from across Europe, experts in foreign policy and policy-makers relating to the Middle East’.   

Part 2 of this investigation, which looks at EFI's corporate backers and its lobbying for trade deals, will be published 21 May 2014.

Notes:

1.  Interview with the author, 18 February 2014.

2.  Exchange of emails between office of Charles Tannock and the author, March 2014.

3.  Interview with the author, 25 March 2014.

4. Exchange of emails between Geoffrey Van Orden and the author, October 2013.

5.  Annex to Moniteur belge (Belgium's official journal), 31 August 2006.

6. Annex to Moniteur belge, 10 January 2012.

7. Telephone conversation with the author, 30 April 2014.

A businessman who spent a year as an adviser to the UK government has revealed his shock at the influence and access lobbyists have with ministers

As “entrepreneur in residence” at the Business Department, Lawrence Tomlinson had an unrivalled view of how lobbyists operate. He concluded that finance lobbyists are seen as "indispensable" by ministers. 

What was shocking, he said, was the "influence of certain organisations, trade associations and individuals within government," singling out the British Banking Association, who he noted “have their foot through the door” of government and are capable of overwhelming attempts by others to change policies. 

Tomlinson added that, while lobbying can serve a valid purpose, the process must be transparent, and conflicts and interests must be declared. He also criticised the common practice where former senior officials and special advisors who write government policy go on to work for major corporations: “In parts of government, there is a revolving door with the large corporates who have a deep interest in government policy,” he said. 

"The conflicts of interest are plainly apparent, and the number of lobbyists and force they have, can hardly be matched by the business community. These interests need to be made more transparent to prevent these conflicts having an impact on our policy making processes.”

The laughable response from the government to Tomlinson's damning observations was to point out that David Cameron had just introduced a register of lobbyists, which he claims will shine a light on lobbying. It is widely acknowledged that the register introduced by the Coalition in January is a sham. For a start, it would not include the British Bankers Association, or any lobbyists working in-house for corporations (large or small). In fact, it deliberately excludes more than 80% of the UK's £2billion lobbying industry. And then, it requires those lobbyists that fall into its tiny net (with massive loopholes) to declare nothing of their lobbying activity.

Tomlinson, who has seen lobbyists operate from inside government, is right to speak out. His remit was how to improve policy for small firms. He has seen with his own eyes that SMEs don't have a hope in hell against the influence of big business and bankers. 

As Spinwatch's Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell set out in their new book on lobbying, A Quiet Word, large corporations have been allowed to become dominant in government. The amount they spend on lobbying and the associated influence of their lobbyists has bought them a structural advantage. They are drowning out everyone else.

A Quiet Word also notes, as Tomlinson does, that rather than being seen as parasitical, corporate lobbyists should more accurately be viewed as subsidising government. As lobbying activity has increased, so our government has become ever more dependent on lobbyists to function. 

As the book reveals, politicians can on occasion be candid about this: "Lobbying is absolutely fundamental to the way we legislate in the UK, right across the board," according to Tim (Lord) Razzall, a politician of forty years’ experience, at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference. "The lobbying organisations do your . . ." He corrects himself: ". . . a lot of the work for you." Legislators are "inundated" with appeals from lobbyists whenever laws are being crafted. "Very often" the way to get changes to proposed laws is simply to email them over. Do politicians actually take any notice of the overtures of lobbyists? "Absolutely," said Razzall. The government takes a "huge amount" of notice.

And why do large corporations spend disproportionately more on lobbying that anyone else? Because they see lobbying as a tactical investment. Put simply, lobbying pays. It delivers a financial return. And the payback can be "astronomic", as the FT noted yesterday, describing the return on lobbying by hedge funds in Washington.

When it comes to lobbying, it is the case that there is a corporate elite and there is everyone else (SMEs, NGOs, the public etc). Transparency in lobbying is one small step to addressing the disparity. It is one that this government has yet to take. 


To discover more about corporate lobbying, and how commercial lobbyists buy access and influence to our government, get hold of a copy of A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell. "A timely account of how voters are conceding power to a silent industry", says the Mail on Sunday.

 

 

 

 

With 10 days to go before Europe goes to the ballot box for the 2014 European Parliament elections, it's time to demand that our prospective representatives put people before profit.

Spinwatch is part of a campaign – Politics for People – asking election candidates to take a pledge: 'to stand up for citizens and democracy against the excessive lobbying influence of banks and big business'.

Many current MEPs from across the political spectrum have already done so, and with the help of organisations and activists from all corners of Europe, we aim to have hundreds of future MEPs join them.

The corporate lobby in Brussels is massive, well-funded, well-connected and, as a result, is able to leave its fingerprints over a large proportion of the legislation that comes out of the EU. The direct impact of corporate Europe on our lives is considerable.

Through the pledge campaign, more than 65 groups from 20 or so European countries are working together to make sure that in the next Parliament, MEPs will not only be aware of the corporate lobbying problem but will take action to curb it. 

Now is the time for you to ask your future MEP to sign the pledge via Politics for People .

Follow the campaign via Facebook and #pforp and #EP2014 on twitter.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014 18:56

Mercer resigns. The problem remains

By

Statement from the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency following the decision to ban Conservative MP, Patrick Mercer from Parliament for six months, and his subsequent resignation.

Mercer's punishment comes as a result of revelations published last year which alleged that he accepted cash in return for tabling questions in the Commons, agreed to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group and offered to produce a Parliamentary report on behalf of a client in return for £4,000. 

Tamasin Cave, spokesperson for the Alliance said:

"Mercer must be reeling after this judgement. There is no question he will have seen others behaving in a similar way and getting away with it. There is a culture within British politics where accepting cash for influence is deemed, if not acceptable, then not overly risky behaviour.

Three years ago the Prime Minister said that lobbying was the 'next big scandal waiting to happen'. Since then, nothing has been done to rein in the commercial lobbying industry. Cameron has introduced what is widely-viewed as a bogus register of lobbyists. 

Mercer did wrong, but he will also be aware that while he has been severely punished, the government has refused to control, or in any way expose the £2 billion a year lobbying business to scrutiny. 

Politicians know better than most that we have a problem with commercial lobbying in this country. The scandal is that they refuse to do anything about it. Mercer's going won't solve it."

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 10:01

Lax lobbying rules lead to reform

By
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Australia's rules for lobbyists, which the UK has chosen to copy, are set to be reformed in the wake of yet more lobbying scandals. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is said to be 'deeply concerned' about the behaviour of officials and former MPs in his Liberal Party as they try to covertly influence government decisions outside of the rules. In recent weeks, an official inquiry has exposed evidence of murky political ­influence-peddling in the party.

As a consequence, Australia's weak transparency regulations for lobbyists have come under scrutiny. Currently, only lobbyists-for-hire working on behalf of third party clients are required to declare their existence on a public register. Lobbyists working in-house for corporations are exempt from the rules. 

This is the model register of lobbyists adopted by the UK government earlier this year. It will require that only a tiny fraction of lobbyists sign up. As one former Australian politician says of this system: 'What you've got covered is the tip of the iceberg.'

'Chairmen of boards, boards of directors, CEOs, directors of government relations for any Australian company can walk in and out of any Australian parliament unrecorded and unregulated.'

The UK government has been warned that scandals involving lobbyists will continue to dog politics unless robust transparency rules are put in place. Yet, it is determined to follow the weak system adopted by Australia, a system now undergoing urgent reform. 

“We need to bite the bullet and get this process done and dusted," Liberal party member and long-term advocate for party reform, John Ruddick, told the Guardian.

The UK government seems intent on taking the same road, one that inevitably leads to more scandals, resignations and damage to the reputation of politics. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 13:07

Shining Big Tobacco's shoes

By
US Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohoe (right) meets José Manuel Barroso in Brussels
US Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohoe (right) meets José Manuel Barroso in Brussels

Two very powerful Americans – let’s call them VPAs – have been welcomed to Brussels by the EU’s grandees over the past month.

The first of these visitors was Barack Obama. Displaying his usual charm, the president received a lot of attention when he declared his love for Belgian beer and chocolate.

By contrast, the second visit of a VPA went largely unreported. It was by Tom Donohoe, head of the US Chamber of Commerce. Last week, he met top-level representatives of the European Commission.

The low profile nature of his trip belies Donohoe’s influence.

The US Chamber of Commerce boasts of being the world’s largest business association. It has spent more than $1 billion on lobbying since 1998.

Donohoe, who commands a $5 million annual salary, was in town to discuss the planned trans-Atlantic trade and investment agreement.

Nothing to hide?

While Donohoe was chatting with Karel de Gucht, the EU’s trade commissioner, their meeting took place behind closed doors. De Gucht’s spokesman refused to give me any details about what was discussed, replying with a bland comment about how it was a “stakeholder meeting”, rather than a formal negotiation. That was despite how de Gucht claimed not long ago that he has “nothing to hide”.

As it happens, de Gucht has many things to hide. And he has good reason not to be transparent. Because if de Gucht was really candid about what he and his colleagues are doing, they would probably face mass public resistance.

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