William Hague advising a US lobbying firm is no surprise. Only an effective register can reveal the true reach of the industry that bedevilled David Cameron writes Tamasin Cave in the Guardian today.
And we’re off. Six weeks into a new government, we have our first of what I am certain will be many lobbying stories. William Hague, former foreign secretary, has cashed in and taken a job as an advisor to a US lobbying firm.
Hague is going to be helping out in Teneo’s “Brexit client transition unit”, one of many dedicated teams hastily set up by lobbying firms to help their corporate clients post-Brexit. Teneo’s unit is on hand to ensure that the views of its clients, such as Coca-Cola and HSBC, are “heard and understood” by our government.
Many multinationals backed Remain, but Brexit also presents them with some mouthwatering opportunities. Free of Brussels, everything in theory is now up for grabs: environmental regulations; financial standards; workers rights; data protection laws; corporate tax rates. Nudge one of these and the winnings could be huge.
Who better to help than someone like Hague? He’s got the contacts in Theresa May’s government, and an intimate knowledge of how the machine works. Add to that the fact that Hague – Lord Hague of Richmond, to give him his full title – is also a legislator and so able to influence from the inside, and you’ve got the whole package.
Except, under the rules governing the “revolving door”, Hague has been barred from lobbying government for another year. What to do? Rest assured he won’t be put on photocopying duty. Hague may not be able to directly petition his former colleagues – which is all that counts as lobbying under the (un-policed) rules – but he is at liberty to advise others on how to go about it, which amounts to much the same.
Hague has joined an already crowded market of those acting as a bridge between corporations and May’s government. Many of her newly appointed ministers are also from “the other side”. Priti Patel at International Development was a lobbyist for BAT and Diageo; George Bridges, head of the new Department for Exiting the European Union, lobbied for the Corporation of London (for example, helping it contain the fallout from the Occupy protest). His junior minister, Robin Walker, was a partner at one of the UK’s big hitting lobbying firms, Finsbury, which is run by the brother of the home secretary, Amber Rudd. The list goes on.
Over a dozen ministerial advisers, including May’s chief of staff, have recently stepped out of corporate lobbying roles
In addition to that, over a dozen ministerial advisers, including May’s chief of staff, have recently stepped out of corporate lobbying roles. One agency, Hanover, has four of its former lobbyists now employed as ministerial advisers, and another is a minister. Its current clients include Goldman Sachs; fracking companies; sugary drinks firms; and the American pharmaceutical industry, including Pfizer. It shouldn’t have any problem getting their messages through to decision-makers.
Just for contrast, Jeremy Corbyn has few mates in the commercial lobbying business (union and NGO lobbyists, yes. Corporate lobbyists-for-hire, no). None of them are Corbynites (by contrast, there are tonnes of Blairites). This rather stymies lobbyists. They don’t have the inside track to him. They have lost their privileged access. What are they going to sell to clients?
It is highly likely that more senior politicians and officials will follow Hague and revolve into the influence industry, such is the current demand. This, coupled with the Conservatives’ close ties to lobbyists, plus the increased activity over Brexit, means it is guaranteed that this won’t be the last lobbying headline associated with May’s government.
As was the case for Cameron – who lived through MPs-for-hire, donors cash-for-access, generals-for-hire, the Leveson inquiry’s revelations over News Corp lobbying and the rest – with every revelation, public trust in our political system is damaged. As the referendum showed, it is already pretty fragile.
There is a way out, but it will require May to recognise something that her predecessor spoke about often, but fiercely resisted in power. She needs to open up lobbying to public scrutiny. She needs to open the curtains a chink. Allow a bit of light in. Let us see who is in the room with her government, let us hear just a little of what they are discussing, what favours are being exchanged (to borrow David Cameron’s phrase), and what deals are being made.
She needs to introduce a proper register of lobbyists. It would simply require them to reveal who is lobbying whom and about what, like the bill that’s currently before the House of Lords. Not the pretend register we have at the moment, introduced by Cameron. It is entirely useless. And she needs to do it now. Before the juggernaut of lobbyists in Westminster and Washington surround her, drowning out the public interest with their demands. Before any deals are struck. Otherwise, we will have “taken back control”, only to hand it over to corporations lobbying in their own interest.
“We will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us,” said May on becoming prime minister. The proof will not be in the policies she announces, but in her willingness to allow us to see, just a little, into the process.
This article was originally published on Spin Watch
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