Once again in the UK we have another ‘lobbying scandal’ where there are no known lobbyists to be seen. Not as far as I can see.
The fall from grace of the former UK Secretary of State for Defence is about failings in the Whitehall machine – the lack of the right checks and balances in the system. Why was Liam Fox allowed to have an informal adviser who had access to his diary? A clear breach of the Official Secrets Act. And we don’t need new laws on the statute book for that.
Like the last UK 'scandal' in March 2010 which involved journalists posing as lobbyists - this time there are no real 'lobbyists' to be seen. Just someone posing as a lobbyist, among other things.
Werritty, Fox’s adviser, was not part of the current self-regulatory process. For those of us who are – this should be a defining moment. We need to root out these people posing as ‘lobbyists’. For far too long we have not taken a hard line on those who are not prepared to stand up for transparency.
Personally, I have reached the limit of that understanding. Those who pose as lobbyists and do not declare their aims do no good to the interests they represent nor to the real lobbying industry.
I have always held to the maxim - if it doesn’t stand the test of public scrutiny it shouldn’t be taking place.
The UK Coalition government is moving to create a statutory register of lobbyists. I have no problem with that idea.
For me there is a vital principle at stake here – a level playing field for all. We need to ensure that all groups - business, unions and charities - operate on the same transparent rules. No hiding behind the privilege of parliamentary passes for some and not for others. There should be none at all for those who are not parliamentarians or their aides. No privileged access. No hiding from declarations of interests.
My company has always declared its clients and its staff. And we continue to do so.
The UK now follows the moves in Brussels and Washington to create a registration process. The jury is certainly out on whether or not the US system has become too prescriptive and means that the best intentions of legislation in this area have driven some activity underground. The Brussels register is only just starting to work. But the UK needs to look at EU and American systems as it develops its own procedures.
Just who will deliver a statutory system in the UK remains a key question.
Government needs to talk to business as well as a wider range of other interests including unions and charities. As the former UK Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler said earlier this week – the civil service does not have a monopoly on wisdom.
In the UK – let's learn from the international experience and root out the non-lobbyists. Let's have a level playing field for all who seek to influence public policy. And root out those who claim to be public affairs professionals but who will not stand up for transparency.
Iain Anderson is director and chief corporate counsel of Cicero Group, chairman of the CIPR Public Affairs Group and sits on the management board of the Association of Professional Political Consultants.