It is time for lobbying to return to the lobby – why transparency is more important than more rules

18th April 2021

Consider the following two statements :-

‘There should be a law against it.’

‘It has not broken any laws.’

Both of these statements are common utterances in political conversation, and they are both possibly said by any of us on depending on circumstance.

Both statements seem to be different.

Yet both these statements are about the same situation: (a) a wrong has happened and (b) no law has been broken.

The difference between the statements is the attitude of the person making the statements, whether ‘something should be done’ or ‘there is nothing to see here’.

No principle or substance separates the two statements, only political expediency.


The prompt for the observations above is, of course, the unfolding lobbying scandal in the United Kingdom.

The former prime minister David Cameron and certain former officials have been shown to be doing things which, in the view of the many if not the few, they should not have been doing.

But, as this blog and others have averred, the individuals concerned have not broken any rules because (it would seem) there are no rules to break.

A cynic would say that a this is the reason why the current prime minister has ordered an investigation, as it will be inevitable that the individuals will be ‘cleared’ of any rule-breaking.

But being ‘cleared’ of any rule-breaking is not the same as being exonerated of any wrong-doing.


The alternative response to the current situation is to call for more rules.

This in part stems from the view – almost a surviving form of magical thinking – that a thing will not happen because there is a rule against it.

Laws as spells.


But what seems to be needed here is not so much more prohibitions, and more codes to (creatively) comply with, but more transparency.

There will always be lobbying – and there is nothing inherently wrong in a democracy with any person seeking to influence those with power.

The important thing is that it is not hidden from view.

That the public can see, if it wishes, the influences being exerted on public policy.

That there are public processes in place for those approaches and exchanges to take place.

In a word: a lobby.

Think about the word, which the internet tells us is defined as:

‘a room providing a space out of which one or more other rooms or corridors lead, typically one near the entrance of a public building’.

And this is the source of the word ‘lobbying’.

Lobbying took place in a lobby: a public or at least quasi-public space.

The time has perhaps come for the practice of lobbying to go back to its root – and for there to be a formal (and, if need be, virtual) lobby where there these exchanges happen and can be seen to happen.

It is perhaps time for the return of the lobby.


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4 thoughts on “It is time for lobbying to return to the lobby – why transparency is more important than more rules”

  1. Well yes but this is a tad simplistic I fear. This starts with where the politicians get their funds and what they pay for them in favours. It continues, in this case (but a bit forgotten), where the founder of a private company with a strong commercial interest gets given a desk and an email address inside No 10. (And since that was a while ago, he may have had successors). It is maintained because a government with a Commons majority can create rules that can be avoided whilst offences against common decency and trust are perpetrated at will. And across the globe, the politician elected to drain the swamp or sweep the stables will find it impossible to resist the temptation to benefit from the marsh gas, the manure, or whatever temptation is on on offer. So, we need a movement to create a regulator of governance (OFFGOV?) which can both create and enforce the rules and devise penances of Gilbertian appropriateness to keep order. A hard task to do and a harder one to set up and keep accountable in law. This government will not do it, will it?

  2. Seems to me the problem is caused by ‘law’. Indeed I was once told the hardest job for a legal draughtsperson was building in the loopholes. Laws that are too specific are too easy to steer round, something more general is needed.

    The cure. Perhaps an over arching system reserved for serious cases of ‘taking the p*ss’. Let ‘taking the p*ss’ become a serious offence and differently dealt with. Entirely decided and driven by juries of ordinary citizens, lawyers generally excluded. Case presentation entirely in person one on one unless mentally unfit. Extensive powers from £5 fine to £1 billion or so including distraint of property. But reserved exclusively for the offence of ‘taking the p*ss’.

    No pre-created definition of TtP, let the juries decide on a case by case one by one basis with no precedents. A bit of uncertainty might be a good deterrent. As for murder and robbery and the rest, leave that to the lawyers.

  3. I think it’s important to distinguish regulated lobbying carried out by agents (and governed by the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists) from what David Cameron was doing, which was acting on behalf of a company which employed him, an activity that is completely unregulated. It ought to be possible for any (legitimate) business to gain access to politicians and civil servants to present their wares, and it should not be the responsibility of the business to ensure that these contacts are made public. The fault lies not with Cameron as employee of Greensil trying to do what he was being paid to do, but with politicians and civil servants IF they acted improperly or stupidly. The investigation into Cameron should be about his and others’ actions when in government – even if their actions in this case were not improper (which I doubt) they were certainly stupid.

    1. ‘it should not be the responsibility of the business to ensure that these contacts are made public’ – I do not think this follows from your previous point, and nor is it self-evident.

      No good reason why it should not also be the responsibility of the business as well as of the official/minister.

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