From networking events to down the pub, when someone asks what you do for a living and you say you are a lobbyist the shady connotations of back-room dealings, private dinners and House of Cards style underhand tactics are usually what comes to mind. In light of the lobbying scandal surrounding David Cameron, we explore why we don’t ‘lobby’.
From joining our team it will be instilled in you that you are not a lobbyist, you are a political consultant. This isn’t just semantics, it is the basis upon which we operate and what we firmly believe is the route to better policymaking.
The key difference is that we have never traded on our contacts and will never offer to use relationships to pursue a client’s case. When the Company was set up nearly 30 years ago it was common practice for consultants to claim to have direct access to influential people. This led to some high-profile controversies, much like what we are seeing now. We considered this not just the wrong approach ethically, but also not the most effective.
In all our experience MPs, Ministers and officials don’t want to hear from us as intermediaries, they want to hear directly from our clients; those with the on-the-ground involvement of how their sector works, the knowledge of what doesn’t function as well as it could and the suggestions for improvement.
Our role is to advise our clients, be they trade associations, charities or businesses both large and small, on how to be most effective in having their voice heard in the corridors of power, not to talk for them.
We provide the expertise to help them navigate the complexities of Westminster, to shape their messages so that they resonate best politically, to identify the right stakeholders to target and to provide the organisational support in arranging the meetings and events. We advise, we support, we consult, but we do not do the lobbying ourselves. It is our clients who are front and centre, developing their relationships for themselves, not for us.
Some might say that the Cameron, direct contact route did prove to be effective in that Sunak “pushed” officials to see if they could help. However, any potentially limited success in the short-term has to be weighed against how many times you can use your contacts before being given the cold shoulder and as has proved to be the case, you stand the risk of reputational damage having a lasting impact.
Our consultancy approach results speak for themselves. We have helped clients to secure changes to legislation, guidance, and policy. Many have developed their reputation of providing useful insight to their sector so that they are now contacted proactively by Government departments and advisers for their input.
The irony is that it was Cameron who introduced the first regulations governing ‘lobbying’. This affair has highlighted one of their major weaknesses which is that they only require third party consultants like ourselves to register contact with Ministers and top officials and not those who work ‘in-house’ for businesses, trade bodies, charities and others. The current review of these regulations needs to address this and as a result of this scandal, now probably will.
Meanwhile, if you meet us down at the pub (now open) please don’t walk away to find someone more interesting to talk to when we say we are political consultants.
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