Parliament shrouded in fog: the new Lobbying Act has failed on every measure. Photo: Getty
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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, and Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad