Parliament shrouded in fog: the new Lobbying Act has failed on every measure. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Lobbying Act does nothing to stop vested interests. That’s why Labour will repeal it

A wasted opportunity to clean up politics and give people faith that their government makes decisions in the interests of the country.

When David Cameron singled out lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen”, he wasn’t wrong. Since coming to power, his government has been rocked by a series of scandals about the access and influence of lobbyists, and yet the Lobbying Act, which was supposed to clean up politics, has failed on every measure.

This is an act so flawed that it has achieved the rare feat of uniting lobbyists and transparency campaigners against it. According to the Association of Professional Political Consultants, it only covers 1 per cent of ministerial meetings, leaving most of those lobbying government unregistered and unregulated. Instead of tackling the lobbying industry, this abysmal act clamps down on charities and grassroots campaigners. Its definition of lobbyists excludes people such as the Conservative adviser and lobbyist Lynton Crosby but the regulations in Part Two stifle campaign groups such as 38 Degrees and the RSPB. This law does nothing to stop vested interests lobbying at the heart of No 10, but makes it harder for grassroots campaigners to hold government to account. It really says it all about who David Cameron stands up for.

The Lobbying Act is so bad that virtually none of the scandals that brought it into being would have been prevented by it. Its limited scope means that meetings between News Corp and the then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt would not have been disclosed. But the regulations around charities and campaigners are so onerous and unclear that the laws will have a chilling effect, silencing a voice that the government has a duty to hear. In doing so, the coalition has reinforced people’s distrust in politics, underlining the impression that Westminster is out of reach to all but a privileged few and making it harder for ordinary people to make their voices heard.

This is why Labour will repeal the act and replace it with real, comprehensive lobbying reform in the next parliament. We will shine a spotlight on relations between lobbyists and government by setting up a statutory register that will cover all professional lobbyists, not just “consultant lobbyists”. We’ll also introduce a code of conduct, backed by sanctions to encourage the highest standards of lobbying practice. 

We will also tackle the “revolving door”, which sees people moving between jobs in government and jobs in the lobbying industry. We need proper oversight to make sure people don’t abuse the connections they’ve made during their time in office. We will also make sure that people who hold senior jobs in politics can't also be lobbyists without the public knowing about it. Anyone doing a senior job for the government or for its political party who is also a professional lobbyist will have to declare it.

The Lobbying Act was a wasted opportunity to clean up politics and give people faith that their government makes decisions in the interests of the country, not vested interests behind closed doors. Instead it has cracked down on the very institutions – charities, campaign groups and trade unions – that provide a voice for those who aren’t heard often enough. When he became Labour Leader Ed Miliband said: “politics is basically broken. Its practice, its reputation and its institutions - I’m in it and even I sometimes find it depressing. This generation has a chance and a huge responsibility to change our politics. We must seize it and meet the challenge.” The Lobbying Act has done nothing but damage our politics, but Ed Miliband and a Labour Government will put it right and deliver the reform our politics needs.

Lisa Nandy is the MP for Wigan. She was formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

A pro-union march in 2014. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The legacy of sectarianism is still poisoning the air of Scotland

Ruth Davidson has reinstated two Stirling councillors who posted anti-Catholic and racist messages on social media. That this kind of cretinous guff still goes on in my hometown in 2017 raises my hackles.

Kenny Dalglish was a bluenose: as a boy in the mid-60s, he and his father would make the short journey to Ibrox to cheer on Rangers, then Scotland’s most successful team. With the football allegiance came a cultural one, too. Or, probably, the other way round.

Wee Kenny could play a bit, obviously, and dreamed that his beloved Gers would sign him up. But, as Richard T Kelly writes in Keegan and Dalglish, his enjoyable new double biography of the two footballing greats, "Rangers had a certain preference for big lads, or else lads with an obvious turn of pace; and Dalglish, despite his promise, had neither of those easy attributes."

Rangers’ loss was Celtic’s gain, but it took some effort. The former, writes Kelly, "was the club of the Queen, the Union, Scotland’s Protestant majority… founded by Freemasons and members of the Orange Order, strongly tied to the shipyards of Govan. Glasgow Celtic was the team of Irish Catholic patriots, revolutionary Fenians and Home Rulers, begun as a charitable organisation… a means to bolster the faith and keep the flock out of the clutches of Protestant soup kitchens. It was going to be a serious step across a threshold for Dalglish to accept the overtures of Celtic."

In the end, Jock Stein dispatched his number two, the unhelpfully named Sean Fallon, to meet the young starlet’s family. "Fallon entered a domestic environment he felt to be 'a bit tense' -  a Rangers house, a lion’s den, if you will. Fallon even picked up the sense that Bill [Dalglish’s father] might rather his son pursue [an] apprenticeship in joinery."

The deal was done ("My dream was to become a professional footballer – the location was just a detail," Dalglish would later say) and the most gifted player Scotland has ever produced went on to make his reputation kitted out in green and white stripes rather than royal blue -  a quirk of those difficult times for which those of us classed as Fenian bastards rather than Orange bastards will be forever grateful.

Growing up in west and central Scotland, it was hard to avoid being designated as one type of bastard or the other, even if you supported a team outwith the Old Firm or had no interest in football at all. Thanks to 19th century immigration, the terrible religio-political divide of Ulster was the dominant cultural force even in Stirling, the town around 25 miles from Glasgow where I grew up and where I now live again. If you went to the Catholic school, as I did, you were a Fenian; if you went to the Proddy (officially, non-demominational) school, you were a Hun. You mostly hung around with your own, and youthful animosity and occasional violence was largely directed across the religious barricades. We knew the IRA slogans and the words to the Irish rebel songs; they had the UVF and the Red Hand of Ulster. We went to the Cubs, they went to the Boys’ Brigade. We got used to the Orange Walks delivering an extra-loud thump on the drums as they passed the chapel inside which we were performing our obligatory Sunday observance.

At the time – around the early and mid 80s – such pursuit of identity might not have been much more than a juvenile game, but it was part of something more serious. It was still the case that Catholics were unemployable in significant Scottish industries – "which school did you got to, son?" was the killer interview question if your answer began with "Saint". This included the media: in the late 90s, when I joined the Daily Record – the "Daily Ranger" to Celtic fans (its Sunday sister, the Sunday Mail, was known to Rangers fans as the "Sunday Liam") – vestiges of this prejudice, and the anecdotes that proved it, were still in the air.

The climate is undoubtedly better now. Secularisation has played its part - my own daughters attend non-denominational schools – even if, as the sportswriter Simon Kuper has observed, many are "not about to give up their ancient traditions just because they no longer believe in God". The peace process in Northern Ireland and important gestures such as the late public friendship between Ian Paisley Sr and Martin McGuinness have made a difference. And I suppose the collapse of Rangers as a footballing force, amid financial corruption that saw them dumped into the bottom tier of Scottish football, helped.

But the sensitivity remains. The 2014 Scottish independence referendum broke down in part across tribal lines, with many Celtic supporters, once Labour, now SNP, loudly backing a Yes vote, while Rangers fans were on the No side. The prospect of Brexit creating a significant border between the north and south of Ireland, which could inflame recently and shallowly buried tensions, makes one shudder. And even locally, the old enmities continue to raise their grubby heads. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories, is currently taking flak for allowing the reinstatement of two Stirling councillors who had posted anti-Catholic and racist messages on social media prior to their election. The pair have apologised and agreed to take part in diversity training, but I confess that this kind of cretinous guff still goes on in my hometown in 2017 raises my hackles. The rawness remains.

That this is so was brought to me a few years ago when I filed a column containing the word ‘sectarianism’ to a Scottish newspaper. Though the context had nothing to do with Catholic/Protestant or Celtic/Rangers, the editor asked me to remove it. "It’ll be deliberately misunderstood by one side or the other, and probably both," he said. "It’s not worth the hassle. In Scotland I’m afraid it never is."

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).