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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Getting into bed with Cameron

Political parties selling access to their leaders, cabinet members and other influential policy makers is not new, however the Tories have taken matters to a new low with their menu of lobbying prices for this years party conference.

The Independent reports that amongst the treats that can be purchased at the conference, lobbyists can pay £1,750 to leave a message on David Cameron's pillow.

On each day of the conference companies or lobbying firms will be able to pay to have their “message or promotional item” placed on the bed of the 350 most senior Tories staying in the official conference hotel. They can also pay to get messages printed on the Tories’ key cards. And because it is a party political conference and not a government occasion it does not count as declarable lobbying:

Among other offers is access to the official VIP lounge where “the Cabinet, Government Ministers and senior Party Officials” go to “relax or grab a quick snack”. For £20,000 plus VAT company executives or lobbyists can buy “access to lounge” with “complimentary passes”. They can also brand the lounge with their logo.

Companies who pay to have a stall at the conference are guaranteed pictures with cabinet ministers that are taken by the party and then given to them on a CD. As the disclosure rules covering the lobbying of ministers have tightened up in recent years, the attraction of party conferences as an opportunity to get discreet access to power has increased. Last year just 38 per cent of those who attended the Conservative conference were actually members – slightly more than the 36 per cent who were described as “Commercial/Charity/Exhibitors”.

And in a wonderful example of chutzpah the Tories are even selling access to the people who have done most to expose the influence of lobbying on politicians: journalists.

One package available to companies is “media zone sponsorship”. For £15,000 this gives sponsors access to the media zone where journalists work with branding in the panels above their heads. In recent years the major party conferences have turned into big money-making operations. Each party aims to raise at least £1m from the event through sponsorships, attendance fees and even a cut of bar sales.

The Tories are not alone in their resourcefulness. Apparently, the Liberal Democrats are selling poster spots in the conference washrooms for £1,000 for 10 sites, while £10,000 will buy your name on the lanyards that every delegate must wear around their necks. Labour are also selling access to Ed Miliband at their “conference dinner”.

You could not make it up.
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