19 July 2013 at 09:26
When I was a politician I was lobbied on a daily basis. Occasionally the lobbyist was a union official, a business leader or a private sector organisation. Now and again a developer or company would lobby me.
But, overwhelmingly, aggressive lobbying and campaigning was led by community groups; residents associations, voluntary sector groups and, indeed, individual citizens who had a view that they, rightly, demanded I heard.
Another word for ‘lobbying’ is democracy. We have a democratic right to approach our elected politicians and officials who govern us and discuss with them the issues that matter to us.
This past month that democratic right has been attacked because of the cack handed way in which our mainstream political parties are forced to operate. Labour has been accused of being ‘owned’ by the Trades Union movement. The Tories, and the Prime Minister, are in the dock because it is alleged that they have dropped proposals to act on the packaging of cigarettes because of the undue influence of Cameron’s advisor Lynton Crosby.
There is no question that unions and business attempt to influence government policy. That is no bad thing. Indeed, I would suggest that business leaders and many in the workforce do know better than parliamentarians when it comes to many of the issues politicians are meant to act upon.
It is therefore concerning that we are looking to rush through legislation that, on the face of it, protects democracy when, in fact, it may well undermine it.
Of course nobody should be able to ‘buy’ influence or use personal friendship for personal favours. More transparency of the lobbying that does take place would be welcome, as would an open and mature debate on the issue without the party political point scoring that we have witnessed this month.
But we must guard against throwing the baby out with the bath water. Legislation and rules around this area will have unforeseen consequences if we are not careful. Don’t let politicians draw up rules that look like they are protecting us from them, when in fact they are trying to protect themselves from us.