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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