View from the House

‘Lobbyist’ has become a dirty word at Westminster. MPs shudder at the very sound of it and those who practise what is now unjustly regarded as a disreputable profession are treated in parliament like pariahs.

The various ‘cash for questions’, ‘cash for access’ and ‘cash for secrets’ scandals have created this climate, and it is thus becoming more difficult for companies – however innocently – to influence ministers.

Forget the idea that you can soften up Whitehall by offering favours to New Labour. The House of Commons is obsessed with ‘sleaze’ on such an absurd scale that MPs are talking about declaring even the cost of a paid-for bus ride.

Last summer, KPMG refused to drop LLM, the controversial lobbying firm at the centre of the ‘cash for access’ affair.

A KPMG spokesman said at the time that the relationship between the firms had been very fruitful.

‘They have a very good understanding of New Labour and have been very helpful in assessing its aims and objectives,’ the spokesman added.

Ministers, of course, argue that although they listen avidly to ‘the people’, they are not influenced by lobbyists and would never admit that their mind was changed by sweet-talking persuaders.

Soon it will be virtually impossible to make a donation to a political party without the whole world knowing. Not so long ago, the Tories had the perfectly reasonable policy of not divulging the names of their donors, saying it was up to the benefactor to make it public if he wanted to.

Before long, there will be legislation to ban foreign donations to political parties and force disclosure of donations over #5,000.

Labour MP Rhodri Morgan, chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, said recently that if information was more readily available lobbyists would not be able to profit from clandestine disclosures.

A worthy, but unattainable thought.

My view is that, however much the government makes life hard for lobbyists, they – just as accountants always do – will find a way around it. There never was a law without a loophole.

Chris Moncrieff is chief political analyst at PA News

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