The parties all have different positions on lobbying transparency. Which is the best, and which the worst?
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 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 (note UKIP appears to have nothing to say on lobbying transparency, and the SNP has yet to publish its full manifesto).
- 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.
- 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.