Lobbying: how politicians are bought and sold
Lobbying: how politicians are bought and
Written by John PickardTuesday, 30 July 2013
In his masterpiece called * Origins of the Family, Private Property and the
State*, Engels pointed out that even in a �democratic republic�, wealth
still wields power indirectly, but all the more surely. �It does this in
two ways�, he explains, �by plain corruption of officials, of which America
is the classic example, and by an alliance between the government and the
In a later work, *State and Revolution*, Lenin took up the same theme,
examining the completely fraudulent character of parliamentary democracy.
�At the present time�, he wrote,� Imperialism and the domination of the
banks have �developed� both these methods of defending and asserting the
omnipotence of wealth in democratic republics of all descriptions.�
Writing in 1917, Lenin went on to quote the example of a minister in the
Provisional Government, Palchinsky, who resigned his office and was
promptly rewarded with a cosy job by the capitalists, on a salary of
120,000 roubles a year. �What would you call this,� Lenin asked, �direct or
These arguments of Engels and Lenin, which are fundamental to a Marxist
understanding of politics and the parliamentary process, have been
completely vindicated over and over again down the years. Recent
revelations of parliamentary sleaze have once again laid bare the thousands
of threads that big business has woven into the fabric of so-called
It is well-known that, in Britain, Tory ministers have an open-door policy
when it comes to meeting lobbyists and the representatives of capitalism,
but it was revealed recently that the Government has an organised system to
�buddy� multi-national firms with Tory ministers and moreover, there were
plans to expand it. In July 2011, the trade minister Lord Green announced
the original initiative to give 38 firms, including telecoms,
pharmaceutical and oil companies, a direct line to ministers and officials.
In 2013, it was announced, a further 12 firms were being added to the list
and 30 more are under consideration.
The original 38 firms, it was announced, had nearly 700 cosy face-to-face
meetings with ministers in the first two years of the scheme. The oil
company Shell alone has had 56 face-to-face meetings with ministers.
Before the election, David Cameron said that the �2bn British lobbying
industry was �out of control� but now that he�s in Downing Street, it is
clear that the Tories have no intention to limit the access of their
business pals to ministers and officials. The latest Government proposal to
�register� lobbyists is no more than a fig-leaf that would only require the
registration of professional lobbying firms. As the campaign group *Lobbying
Transparency* explained, there are fundamental flaws with this approach.
�Lobbyists-for-hire in agencies�, they explain, �account for only a small
proportion of Britain's influence industry. They are outnumbered by
in-house lobbyists by at least six to one�.
*Lobbying Transparency* go on to explain how the system would be
nonsensical: �a supermarket, say, with a team of six in-house, full-time
lobbyists would not have to declare its lobbying, but if it temporarily
took on an agency to increase its influence, only the agency would have to
register its lobbyists.� Secondly, the government are proposing that
lobbyists who are registered reveal only *minimal* information, that is,
their names and their clients. This completely undermines any attempt to
increase government accountability because it misses out completely any
lobbyists' interaction with officials and ministers.
It is clear that the Lobbying Bill is not intended to in any way shape or
form to curtail the official or unofficial links between business and
Parliament. The only firm measure it does offer is against the trade
unions, in that it aims to put a limit on donations from the trade unions
to the Labour Party � so the interests of thousands of working people are
equated with the profits of big companies. While the howls of rage from
ordinary people about endless austerity will continue to be met with
blanket indifference, the representatives of big companies will still be
feted and Government policies will be shaped and moulded to best suit the
profits of the corporations.
Tory policy on food labelling will continue to be made by the food
companies; cigarette packaging policy by the Tobacco industry; policy on
minimum alcohol pricing by the brewers and distillers; and health policies
by the private health sector.
What also ties business to officials and MPs and effectively buys them off
is the �revolving door� policy that gives ex-ministers and ex-civil
servants well-paid jobs in the private sector � and almost always in that
part of big business for which they were previously responsible and which
in some cases they were previously �policing�. Thus defence contractors
take on ex-Defence ministers as consultants, private health companies take
on ex-Health ministers, and so on. One of the most blatant was the
appointment a few months ago of David Hartnett to work for one day a week
for Deloitte, one of the top four auditing companies. Hartnett was until
recently the head of HM Revenue and Customs. It was during his time in
charge that cosy sweetheart deals were agreed between HMRC and Vodafone and
Goldman Sachs to pay a nominal sum in taxes in lieu of what they ought to
The Goldman Sachs deal saved them �20m in interest payments that ought to
have gone to the Exchequer. Hartnett was said to have personally negotiated
a deal with Vodafone who paid only �1.25bn of the �6bn originally claimed
by HMRC. It was also on Harnnett�s �watch� that other companies, like
Starbucks, paid nothing at all. Lo and behold, it transpires that Deloitte,
Harnett�s new bosses, are the official auditors for Vodafone! Harnett�s
wonderfully lucrative part-time job at Deloitte�s hasn�t stopped him
getting another part-time post as an adviser to the banking group, HSBC.
This is the bank, let us recall, which was fined $1.9bn by the authorities
in the USA for laundering Mexican drugs money.
Deloitte, of course, are not unique. All of the big four accountancy
companies, including also KPMG, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Ernst & Young,
frequently have their own staff seconded to work in the Treasury and in
other government departments and they regularly recruit ex-civil servants
with �inside� knowledge to work for them.
Looking at all this, as Lenin would have asked: is it direct or indirect
In the US Congress, the number of lobbying organisations is even more
phenomenal. There are nearly fifteen thousand of them, *around thirty for
each and every elected representative*. On every single issue, from climate
change to taxation to health, to gun control � on *every* issue � these
professional ear-benders are canvassing, phoning, meeting and schmoozing
with elected representatives. Billions of dollars are spent on an
industrial scale � over $3bn in each of the last five years � to *buy* the
politicians that millions of Americans*think* they have elected. They have
a thousand threads connecting them to PR agencies so they can spread
unfavourable stories in the press to blackmail representatives who might be
reluctant to follow their cues. It makes no difference whether they are
Democrat or Republican � the overwhelming majority are in the pockets on
business. The �revolving door� operates here, too, with former lobbyists
getting top jobs as aides to congress members and then former aides going
back into lucrative jobs among the lobbying firms.
During recent demonstrations in Egypt, a BBC journalist asked a man in a
Cairo street why he was demanding the overthrow of Morsi. The man replied
that Morsi and the Egyptian Assembly had not put in practice the policies
on which they were elected. Without a blush or a hint of irony, the BBC
journalist asked, �*but that�s democracy, isn�t it?*� It might be democracy
to an unprincipled philistine, or to a representative of business, but to
any normal worker it is the*opposite* of democracy.
The 2011 Survey of British Social attitudes posed the following statement
to which people were asked to express agreement or disagreement: �Generally
speaking those we elect as MPs lose touch with people pretty quickly�. The
answers showed that nearly 73 per cent either �agreed� or �agreed
strongly�. This shows the huge reservoir of cynicism that exists about
politicians of *all*parties and it is a serious issue for the labour
movement. It is an issue about how its elected representatives ought to
behave in office. It is a disgrace that so many Labour MPs are out of touch
with the lives and conditions faced by ordinary workers. It is an even
greater disgrace that from time to time it is Labour politicians, like
peers Lords Cunningham and Mackenzie, who have been embroiled in the sleazy
The policy applied in practice by three Labour MPs in the 1980s � �A
worker�s MP on a worker�s wage� � has more validity today than it has ever
had and Labour Party members ought to make it a central theme of any
discussions on Party elections and representation. Labour MPs should not
hob-nob with the spokes-persons of big business; they should avoid the
junkets and the �social club� atmosphere of the House and they should
faithfully represent the people who elected them, by living on the same
living standards and opening themselves to re-selection at every election.
Cosy relationships: Tory business �buddies�
1. Property firms Atkins and Balfour Beatty are �paired� with climate
change minister, Greg Barker, who is in charge of the Tories� �green homes�
2. Nestle, Unilever, Mondelez (including Cadbury, formerly part of
Kraft) and Associated Britiish Food are �paired� with David Heath, of the
Department of Agriculture.
3. Oil firms are �paired� with Vince Cable, Business Secretary.
4. Proctor and Gamble, Willetts and Cisco are �paired� with Foreign
Office minister Hugo Swire.
5. Telefonica (O2), Orange and T-Mobile (EE) are �paired� with culture
minister, Ed Vaizey.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]