For as long as the UK economy remains in its windowless, airless and damp basement with neither sight nor smell of those elusive ‘green shoots of recovery’, the reprisals and recriminations will keep coming. People are angry and politicians in power don’t like angry voters – anger tends to colour views when the angry enter a polling booth.
Greedy bankers and their bonuses, politicians and their expense claims and newspapers with underhand access to our private conversations have each been demonised in turn. Tax-evading Greeks, the feckless unemployable, the travelling community, striking public servants, immigrants to these shores … even the disabled have had a public roasting. People are angry and anger needs a target. Estate agents have got away with it so far, but their day is surely not far away. Political lobbyists are also in the firing line.
Mark Harper, the Cabinet Office Minister, came face to face with a pretty irate public affairs industry last night. His department has introduced a consultation designed to create a statutory ‘Register of Lobbyists’, part of the coalition government’s strategy to make politics more open and transparent.
The Government proposes that only public affairs agencies that conduct the black arts on behalf of third parties will fall within the remit of the register. In-house lobbyists will be exempt. The authors of the consultation are not sure whether pro bono work would need to be declared and are open to suggestions on whether trades unions should fall within the remit. The selective nature of the proposed register is discriminatory, the industry counters, and may even break EU laws.
It doesn’t take a fertile imagination to foresee a significant reduction in agency fees and a mass exodus of lobbying talent from agency to in-house roles if the proposed legislation becomes law. Does the Government think in-house lobbyists are less effective at their jobs, and therefore less worthy of attention? Or perhaps, they recognise that the Government itself regularly lobbies big business when it wants a discretionary investment made here or support for a policy change there?
The public affairs industry is broadly comfortable with the introduction of a universal register, provided no commercial sensitivities are breached and it doesn’t add unnecessary red tape or expense to their bottom lines. The Government says it wants to foster an environment that enables business to lobby parliament easily.
The real bottom line, however, is that people have lost faith in the moral fibre of our politicians and public figures. People no longer trust public servants not to be unduly swayed by the views of the clandestine lobbyist. It’s easier, of course, to attempt to muzzle the shadowy lobbyist than to admit that their parliamentary peers are often morally weak, devoid of real world experience and if left unchecked, may perform regular acts of policy-making stupidity or simple self-interest.
Whether it is possible to talk an economy into a recession is a mute point, but talking up a negative environment can certainly defer the prospects for economic recovery. Am I alone in my boredom of this Government’s daily pronouncements and tough talking witch-hunts to explain the state we’re in? Maybe we’d all be better served if the Government were to focus its attention exclusively on accelerating economic recovery, rather than playing games and electioneering with their messaging and their time.