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Lobbyists can still sleep soundly

The Cameron technique becomes clearer by the day:

Pick up a problem that is causing public anger, make an instant speech declaring himself fully on-side, and then hit it with a wet flannel.

  • Bankers crash the economy and spark a slump – set up a Commission years later, then endorse its conclusions that are too feeble to have much effect.
  • Predatory capitalism – remove a knighthood from Fred Goodwin.
  • Executive pay excesses – give shareholders a vote, which they’ve got already and don’t use.
  • Obscene bankers’ bonuses – publicly state a cap of £2,000, but no sanction, so Stephen Hester of RBS and his ilk still each get £2.1 million or so.
  • No money for anything – cheer up, we can still afford a new yacht for the Queen.
  • And now lobbyists making millions out of an inside track to government contracts – we’re setting up a register, but it’s not enforceable and only covers a fraction of the lobby landscape.

The new so-called lobbyists’ register, going out for consultation this weekend, is the wettest, feeblest, most innocuous measure you could dream up – just right for this Cameron government. It’s pitted with loopholes. Ministers won’t be forced to declare meetings with lobbyists if they happen to be their friends. In-house lobbyists will not be expected to register because because any meetings they have with Ministers are already recorded, but patchily and not readily publicly available.

The expected coverage of register, 275 lobby firms with 1500 employees, is a minute fraction of the industry seeking to influence government for profit. The amount of information to be provided would give just the bare outline, still concealing the latest financial background that reveals the true network of influence.

Above all the government report rules out a statutory code of conduct. Without a mandatory register backed up by effective sanctions the whole exercise is a whitewash. In one sense it is even worse because it appears to be taking action on an issue of acute public concern without actually making hardly any change at all – a perfect Cameronian device.

What better let-out for Ministers than to be able to say that they can’t reveal their meetings with their lobbyist friends because they were ‘private’? This surely must count as the first victory of the lobby industry in making utter monkeys out of the government. It has all the smack of firm goverment of a bucket of warm spit.

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