Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Unlock Democracy: Dinner With The Camerons


“It’ll be awesome for your business”.


These are the words of Peter Cruddas, the then Conservative Party treasurer, who was caught on camera by a Sunday Times investigation offering unprecedented access to David Cameron and Number 10’s Policy Unit to donors prepared to pay the party a “premiere league” sum of £250,000.

The Conservatives have been quick to dismiss his claims as “bluster” and force him to resign.  But we can’t test the veracity of his claims for the simple reason that in the UK we have no system to record which lobbyists have been meeting which politicians, and for what purpose.

As you may recall, I wrote to you last week about putting pressure on the government to strengthen its plans for a lobbying register.  This latest scandal makes the need for this all the more urgent.  Please join the thousands who have already signed our open letter to the minister in charge Mark Harper by following this link:

http://action.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/lobbying-letter

“I won’t be registering myself as a formal lobbyist because I do a range of activities.”

This is what Sarah Southern, the lobbyist at the heart of the Sunday Times investigation, thinks of the proposed new lobbying rules.  She feels the rules won’t apply to her, even though her stock-in-trade is using her contacts at the heart of government to help paying clients change government policy.  In this case, she was discussing how a company based in Liechtenstein might be able to bypass the law and donate up to £250,000 to the Conservative Party (it is illegal for foreign companies to donate to British political parties).

A robust lobbying register isn’t the only thing that needs to be changed - clearly we need to sort out how parties are funded as well.  Cross-party talks are set to resume once again in light of this latest scandal.  We’ll be pressing all parties over the next few weeks to ensure that these talks make actual progress instead of more bluster.

But the government is consulting on its own plan for a lobbying register and the consultation ends in a couple of weeks.  We need to take action on this now.

The government’s proposals are a sham and would not cover three quarters of the lobbying industry.  Big companies with their own in-house teams of lobbyists such as Tesco would be exempt while small businesses dependent on hiring outside support would not.  No wonder Sarah Southern doesn’t feel the rules would apply to her.

More than 3,000 people have signed our joint letter over the weekend and we want thousands more.  With the government under acute pressure on this, it will make all the difference in the world.  Please add your name here:

http://action.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/lobbying-letter

This latest scandal is not an isolated incident.  The sad fact of the matter is that money talks in UK politics at the moment and all too often we don’t like what it has to say.  We have a window of opportunity to turn this around.  Let’s take it.

All the best,

Peter Facey
Director, Unlock Democracy