19 October 2011

Do politicians’ perspectives change when they move from Opposition to Government?

In Opposition, UK Conservative MPs were vocal about the need for controls on lobbying. In Government, they seem tolerant of wide “corporate networks of influence” .

In February 2010 the OECD recommended member states give effect to Principles on  Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying. A feature is to register lobbyists and their contacts with decision-makers. Most member states have programmes to give effect to the Principles  –  New Zealand being the notable exception. The European Union also introduced lobbyist controls.

The UK coalition agreement of May 2010 included a commitment to “…regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.” A register, promised by David Cameron on becoming Prime Minister, has not been introduced.

The resignation of the Minister of Defence last week was precipitated by public distaste for his extensive and improper contacts with interest groups through his “friend and personal adviser” (who is now subject to Police investigation for falsely representing a Parliamentary connection). The resulting scandal has renewed the enthusiasm of MPs in Opposition for controls. Conservative MPs who dominated Public Adminstration Committee in 2009 when it called for a compulsory register, may now be less insistent.

The Shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, calling for greater transparency, claims that a register of lobbyists that records meetings between lobbyists and Ministers, is now essential.