Monthly Archives: March 2010

Lobbyists’ shock victory over political heavyweights in Westminster quiz

News reaches me of a stunning victory for lobbyists over politicians and the media.

Last night saw a charity political quiz, hosted by Iain Dale at the City Inn Hotel in Westminster. The quiz was organised by Ebay PR manager Vanessa Canzini to raise cash for Acton Homeless Concern.

An early favourite to win was the Sky News team, led by Adam Boulton with help from Peter Kellner and Anji Hunter. Total Politics also fielded a team of six, as did top lobbying firms APCO Worldwide, Blue Rubicon, Hanover and Weber Shandwick. Tory frontbencher Damian Green is also said to have been roped in.

But when the results were announced there was an unexpected winner in the form of little-known lobbying outfit Indigo Public Affairs. According to Canzini they were ‘way out in front of the other teams’.

And they only had two people!

So what happened? Planning shop Indigo is run by Richard Patient, but I understand their secret weapon goes by the name of David Boothroyd

A source tells me: ‘Boothroyd won it single handed… He is their walking Google. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of politics.’

No sh*t!

Lobbyist in audacious bid to woo Daily Mail man

The lobbying industry’s fight to clear its name continued this weekend as Foresight Consulting MD Mark Adams took to the airwaves.

Appearing on Radio 4’s Week in Westminster, the ever-professional ex-Downing Street private secretary stood firm under scrutiny from shrewd Daily Mail commentator Peter Oborne.

In a shock move, Mark even invited Peter to spend a day hanging out with him. He said:

‘There’s nothing mysterious about what we do. I’d be more than happy for you to join me for a day in my office, Peter.’

Alas, the Mail man didn’t exactly jump at the offer…

Revealed: my role in lobbygate

Time to come clean. A couple of months ago I met up with Claire from the Sunday Times, just as she was beginning to start work on the Dispatches programme.

It was not long after my story about expenses-hit Tory MP Andrew Mackay joining Burson Marsteller’s lobbying practice.

Among other things, we chatted about who might be next to cash in on their contact book  political experience. 

I told her I was reliably informed that Geoff Hoon was keen to make some cash in the private sector…

Is Budget lobbying crackdown all it’s cracked up to be?

Well, he did it! As I said he would a week ago, Alistair Darling has used the Budget to crack down on lobbying by state-funded quangos.

The Budget 2010 says the Government will ‘limit the use of lobbying and public relations consultants by arms length bodies’.

Clearly, I owe my source a drink…

But devil of this plan is in the detail. A supplementary Budget document spells out that quangos ‘must not use public funds to employ external public affairs or other consultants to lobby Parliament or Government with the principal aim of altering government policy or to obtain increased funding’.

Is this the really tough crackdown that some have been calling for?

Martin LeJeune is one lobbyist who thinks not. According to the twittering Open Road boss the restictions are ‘pretty feeble in practice’.

Another lobbyist privately goes further: ‘There are so many ways around this rule… Pure grandstanding.’

Labour makes screeching lobbying register u-turn. Will Tories follow?

Following yesterday’s lobbying scandal, Labour has firmly committed to a statutory register of lobbyists.  The offical line from Labour HQ is as follows:

‘We believe that the time has come to support a statutory register of lobbyists and we will bring forward proposals to that effect in our manifesto, building on the work we have already done to create a voluntary code.’

It is a remarkable statement, given the Government’s distinct lack of enthusiasm for such a register up until now.

When the House of Commons public administration select committee called for a statutory register in January 2009, the Government shrugged its shoulders and took over ten months to respond. When it finally did respond, in late October 2009, there appeared to be very little appetite for a statutory register. Instead, public affairs firms were encouraged to go away and develop a voluntary system. ‘The Government believes that effective voluntary self-regulation must be the preferred approach,’ the response stated, quite clearly.

It remains to be seen exactly what shape Labour’s statutory register takes. As a minimum it would have to include names of all lobbyists and their clients.

Would it also detail all meetings between lobbyists and MPs? What about meetings with officals? And who would pay for the thing? – the taxpayer? Or would lobbyists be forced to pay? What about charity lobbyists, surely they shouldn’t have to cough up? But should they really be given an advantage over small businesses, for example?

However it pans out, Labour’s u-turn puts the Tories in a tricky position. So far, they have talked tough on lobbying but held back from supporting a statutory register of lobbyists and their clients. It is a stance that many senior Tories are privately happy with – not least those that own lobbying firms!

But can it last? With lobbying now firmly back in the headlines, it might be difficult for the Tories to preserve the idea that they are best placed to clean up politics if they are not prepared to match Labour every step of the way on lobbying.

In short, Labour has decided to talk tough. Don’t be surprised if Dave seeks to get himself on an even footing…

Shameless Stephen Byers gives Labour MPs a bad name with lobbying boasts

The Sunday Times story of MPs caught by their fake undercover lobbying operation is explosive stuff. Stephen Byers comes out of it worst. Here’s a couple of brief highlights:

Stephen on using his friend Tony to grease the wheels: ‘I see Tony Blair every month and you’ll probably find a lot of your clients really quite like him. If there’s an event … we could have a word with Tony, say come along for a drink.’

Stephen on helping Tesco to avoid consumer-friendly food labelling. ‘So you ring Peter Mandelson and say, “Peter, did you know what Hilary Benn’s about to do? … He’s going to introduce a regulation which is going to have this huge nightmare in every supermarket”… Peter got it delayed and then got it amended.’

And that’s just the half of it…

Don’t forget to tune in to Channel 4 on Monday at 8pm to see Byers make a complete arse of himself.

Stephen Byers caught in C4 lobbying sting

The Channel 4 Dispatches programme on lobbying will air on Monday evening. And it promises to be pretty explosive…

Last weekend, the Mail on Sunday reported that an un-named Tory MP had been caught promising cash for access to a fake lobbying firm. Now, The Sunday Telegraph has dug deeper and suggests that Stephen Byers could actually be the politician in most trouble when the show airs. Melissa Kite reports:

‘Mr Byers, a leading former Blairite minister, was filmed telling actors posing as potential employers that he would be a valuable addition to their company because of his position.

‘He was later so worried about what he had said that he sent an email claiming he had “exaggerated”.’

Oops. Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon and Baroness Morgan were also targeted by the undercover operation, the paper claims.

Get the timer set for 8pm Monday evening, Channel 4…

UPDATE: The Sunday Times has the full story. Byers is banged to rights. Shameful.