Yesterday I tweeted that legislation made in haste, is rarely good legislation. It was only after that I discovered that indeed it appears the government is careering headlong down a path of disastrous legislation to regulate lobbyists.
Unfortunately much of the media coverage and comments from ‘experts’ are simply spinning their own agenda or arguing for their own vested interests.
The latest move by the Tories and Liberal Democrats to dilute the lobbying legislation by confusing it with trade union funding and membership will only delay and reduce the likelihood of good legislation being passed.
However, some responses I’ve seen are equally misguided. It is right, indeed essential, that trade unions are included in any proposed statutory register of lobbyists. Just as it is essential that businesses, consultants, charities, pressure groups, trade bodies and NGOs are included. However, that is an entirely separate issue to the ones of trade union funding and membership.
The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady issued what started as a great statement when she said:
“The government is cynically trying to exploit a political sleaze scandal to crack down on unions – which are democratic and accountable organisations. We already have some of the most restrictive union laws in all of Europe and this move smacks of naked opportunism.
“Making it harder for working people to take strike action and for unions to support local candidates is not the way to clean up politics.”
However, she then went on to muddy the waters by adding:
“Ordinary people want action to curb the lobbying power of rich men and mighty corporations. It would be better if the government focused on this rather than taking a politically motivated swipe at unions.”
Actually a lot of ‘ordinary’ people I talk to – who aren’t involved or even very interested in politics at all – are concerned about anyone or anything that has ‘special’ access to politicians. That includes rich men, mighty corporations and trade unions. Let’s not forget that despite the recent welcome rise in trade union membership most people aren’t members and don’t work in unionised workplaces.
A big reason for the rise of UKIP, and other even more extreme parties, is disillusionment with politics and the democratic process. There are many reasons for this, ironically most of them not to do with politicians as most are actually doing a very good and honourable job. But that is not the popular perception which is driven by distorted mainstream media coverage. I also believe that people’s expectations of politicians are also becoming more selfish. We elected you so you should do what we want. When actually in a representative democracy we elect politicians to do what they believe to be best for everyone. That doesn’t mean just the people who shout the loudest in community campaigns, national demonstrations and social media. It’s just as important, if not more so, to support the silent majority.
Therefore trade unions must be included in a register of lobbyists as it would be ludicrous to regulate some lobbyists and not others. However, the issue of trade union funding and membership are entirely separate debates and nothing to do with legitimate lobbying. It is a direct attack on democracy to say that some people or organisations have more right to representation than others.
In my personal opinion the only exception to registering should be individuals directly lobbying their own MP. My proposal would therefore also require community ‘action groups’ and associations to register. I don’t think that’s actually a bad thing as to exclude them would leave open a potential loophole where companies and organisations could use or exploit such groups as a ‘front’.
However, this means the register needs to be simple and transparent so that it is very easy for everyone to keep it up to date in ‘almost’ real-time. This also means the register must be publicly funded and free for all lobbyists to register.
It is better to have too much registration than too little.