Tag Archives: lobbying companies

In defence of “parliamentary graffiti”

A new pernicious and – surprise, surprise – anonymous campaign blog in support of scrapping early day motions has been established. Up until now, calls to scrap this system has been restricted to (usually Tory) MPs. Why an ordinary member of the public would want them scrapped is another matter.

If you go and have a peek at the EDM database, you could be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much to defend. But you would be wrong. EDMs are currently one of the few ways in which backbench MPs can raise issues in Parliament – which means they are one of the few ways in which their constituents can raise issues in Parliament.

As a campaign tool, for both parliamentarians and pressure groups, they are invaluable. On an almost monthly basis you read news reports assessing the likelihood of a backbench rebellion succeeding or failing as a result of how many members have signed the accompanying EDM. They are a key tool for backbenchers to arm themselves against the whips, a way of forming strength in numbers. In order to get private members bill legislation through parliament they are absolutely crucial. The Sustainable Communities Act* would never have become law if 338 MPs – a clear majority – had not signed the accompanying EDM.

Could the system be improved? Of course. For one thing, the current paper-based system is a total waste of money. Parliament could – and should – move towards an electronic system. There is also merit in considering some kind of guillotine rule for EDMs which fail to get enough signatories within a week (for example). The biggest abusers of EDMs are MPs themselves who just can’t resist tabling EDMs about their local football or rugby teams, etc. Yet I have never seen a critic of the system call for it to be reformed, merely scrapped.

Who would benefit from scrapping the system? Party whips whose job would suddenly become much easier. MPs more generally – particularly those dinosaurs who have been taken to task over the past couple of months – whose views would be less open to public scrutiny. Multi-client lobbying companies, who would be able to assert a greater monopoly on who has access to Parliament (currently, voluntary sector organisation facing up against a lobbying firm can at least rely on the public record as a way of monitoring progress of their campaigns and ensuring MPs’ opinions’ can’t waver; without EDMs, the lobbying companies would be the only ones with the resources to monitor this).

So we should be wary of this peevish campaign and question why they are hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Come out come out, wherever you are!

* Interest: I work for Unlock Democracy which was – and remains – one of the main backers of the SCA.

Is it time to revisit rules on lobbying Lords?

Cameron is to capitulate over Lord Oakeshott’s private members’ bill aimed at ousting peers who are resident abroad for tax purposes. The clear target of the bill, Michael Ashcroft, who is currently running a Messagespace advertising campaign to push his two latest books, has this to say about his beloved Belize on his website:
Michael Ashcroft website screenshot

Belize – “if home is where the heart is, this is my home”

Michael Ashcroft grew up in Belize after his father had been posted there by the Foreign Office.
In 1982 he revisited the country and fell in love with its people and culture for a second time.

Michael Ashcroft is now a major investor in Belize. He also funds educational charitable projects in Belize and neighbouring islands.

Between 1998 – 2000 he was the Belizean Ambassador to the United Nations. He was nominated for his knighthood by the Belizean government.

All of which is fair enough, but doesn’t exactly scream suitability for the UK legislature. I fear that Lord Ashcroft would fail Lord Tebbit’s cricket test.

But the point of my post is not (just) to make cheap shots at Ashcrofts expense. It is to question whether, in the light of this and the ongoing debate over Parliamentarians and expenses, it is time for the Lib Dems to revisit their policy banning members of the House of Lords from working for lobbying companies.

The Lords Parliamentary Party has consistently blocked these proposals on the grounds that many peers require supplementary income. Since then, two facts have emerged which undermine this argument.

First of all, the level of expenses which peers can claim for has become apparent – £37,000 tax free. Secondly, those unwilling to give up their cushy lobbying jobs have a simple option: take a long term leave of absence. If Andrew Phillips can do that, so can Tim Clement-Jones.

Should we have another go at this at the autumn party conference? In the current climate it seems to me this is one loophole we can’t afford to leave gaping.