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Monday, March 17, 2014

Lifting the curtain on the lobbyist

The Telegraph carries an interesting review of a new book that seeks to lift the veil on the murky world of lobbying.

A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell argues that there is an imbalance between the parent who wants a lollipop lady at the school gates and the chieftains of the £2 billion “influence industry” who use their contacts to advance the interests of profit-hungry corporations.

The book argues that our choice of food and drink, our wars, our energy security and the future of a warming planet are all being manipulated to a greater or lesser extent by influencers operating far below the radar:

Still, politicians, as Cave and Rowell suggest, are hopeless at stamping out improper lobbying – not least because lobbying is what politicians do after (or even during) their parliamentary careers. Both the Tories and Labour have a substantial roll call of those who regard themselves (explicitly, in the case of one former minister) as “cabs for hire”, ready to pull strings for those who pay for leverage.

This spider’s web of collusion is impossible for the general public to unravel. As the authors point out, the Lobbying Bill currently before Parliament falls woefully short of transparency. Who, then, is to shine a light on the murky ways of lobbyists? Cave and Rowell provide some useful examples, but their account is short on depth and detail. Partly, the problem is the ambitious task they have set themselves. The pharmaceutical industry alone would merit a book of exploration, as would the petroleum multinationals, the nuclear lobby and the other giants this text seeks to slay.

There are some good hits, as well as familiar stories, such as Shell’s record in the Niger Delta, which certainly bear repeating. If the book posits a Manichean world in which the struggle of good versus bad sometimes leaves little room for nuance, that is the fault and virtue of all polemics.

The paper takes issue with the portrayal of the media, which they say is superficial. They argue that if lobbying is to become more transparent, the awkward, contrarian British media is far more likely to be a solution than a problem. They would say that wouldn't they?

The fact is that for all the allegedly forensic scrutiny of the fourth estate, they have been no more successful at controlling the lobbying industry than the politicians. The book should be worth a read.
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