Nick Clegg really has some nerve on new lobbying laws

Councillor Neil Wilson,

Once again, we have arrived at a point where already existing rules have been broken by politicians and the government’s answer is to crack down hard on those who are categorically not responsible.

Presumably in the hope that the apparently corrosive influence of lobbyists over our otherwise saintly political class will be halted, a register of lobbyists looks set to hit the statute books prior to 2015.

Because punishing decent people doing valuable and worthwhile jobs by making them appear on a statutory register is the obvious answer.

Because it’s the lobbyists, not the politicians, who have been at fault here.

See how it works yet?

This completely charmless, yet sadly predictable, reaction is the wrong one for a number of reasons.

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See, the lobbyists involved in last week’s stings weren’t actually lobbyists. They were journalists. The fault then, lies completely with the daft gits who asked for money for asking questions. A statutory register might have prevented said politicians from falling into this situation, granted, but only because it could have given Mercer and Co prior indication that their meetings were not with state-approved lobbyists.

So, firstly, a register will protect politicians from fake lobbyists. The sceptic in me can’t see how preventing politicians from getting caught out chimes with Clegg’s ‘cleaner, better politics’.

Written to your MP recently? Probably not, but thousands do every year. One MP’s caseworker I spoke to recently claims to have dealt with over 3000 cases since 2010. This is fairly typical. That’s a lot of letters from constituents, the majority of them asking for their MP to intervene on their behalf, to support a cause they favour, or to vote in a certain way. What the hell is this if not lobbying?

Democracy isn’t just about electing people and then letting them get on with it for five years before traipsing into the polling station again to feel as if we’ve had a say. We put them there to be lobbied and quite often this changes their behaviour.

The argument will no doubt come back that there is a fundamental difference between Mrs Miggins’s aversion to badger culling which she pesters her MP about at a local tea party and lobby groups who have pooled support and therefore finances in an attempt to garner influence at Westminster. But this is dangerous territory and is government making judgements on people’s tastes.

So secondly, legislation will have to distinguish, in the rather arbitrary fashion that government does, between the gripes of different people. How this can be done impartially is beyond me as they will effectively be telling us that issue a, b and c will have to register because they’re a big enough issues to constitute organisation, where as issues d, e and f won’t.

Worst of all however, Clegg knows this won’t work. If a statutory register was going to be a catch all solution, why would the recall element of the legislation – a far more effective way of making MPs accountable – be being considered? Surely it’s an admission that no matter what rules are put in place, they will always, inevitably, be broken?

 

Neil Wilson is a Conservative councillor, commentator, campaigner. Follow him on Twitter @CllrNeilWilson

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