Emily Wallace: My message to the new lord of lobbying

Written by Emily Wallace on 10 July 2017 in Opinion

By taking on a job at a lobbying firm, Lord Feldman risks further damaging trust in politics and public life.

Last week we learned that the former chair of the Conservative Party is taking up a role as a senior adviser at Tulchan Communications.

Lord Feldman's new post is confirmed by the latest House of Lords’ Register of Interests. It raises questions about just how fit for purpose the House of Lords Code of Conduct – which governs what outside roles peers can take – really is, and whether it is working in the best interests of restoring trust in politics and public life.

It’s common for peers to accept paid and unpaid roles outside of their parliamentary duties. There is no problem with this: they are obliged to regularly update their entry in the Lords’ Register and similarly to make declarations when they speak in the chamber.

However, a peer working for a lobbying consultancy is arguably, slightly different from most appointments.  In the opening paragraphs of Tulchan’s homepage they state that they “help our clients engage with regulatory and political audiences on a range of public policy issues” and say that “we help our clients to engage effectively and positively with stakeholders to navigate an often complex and shifting policy framework.” What we don’t know is who their clients are and how Lord Feldman will be helping them.

The vast majority of the professional lobbying sector in the UK are members of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, complying with a rigorous code of conduct, that does not allow them to take on a peer. APPC members cannot hire peers. Simple as that.

Tulchan of course are not APPC members. Let’s be absolutely clear, to the best of my knowledge no rules have been broken. It’s just that as a professional lobbyist and deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants I feel pretty uncomfortable about this sort of arrangement. So, yet again it is those that are not compliant with rigorous standards that make the headlines and define and damage the reputation of our sector.
 
I came into this industry because I happen to think that lobbying performs an extremely valuable role in our democracy. But when peers take on paid roles that blur the divide between legislator and lobbyist, a line is crossed.
 
No one is suggesting we should stop peers from taking paid work outside of the Lords. But they and their firms must commit to not undertaking public affairs work in that capacity. No ifs no buts. That is what our code insists. And it also insists that no consultant lobbyists can hold a parliamentary pass giving them unfettered access to Parliament, and that the highest standards of transparency are adhered to, with all clients being publically declared on the register each quarter.
 
So my message to Lord Feldman is to make a declaration that you will not undertake any lobbying in your new role. Give people confidence that lobbyists and legislators respect the necessary divide between our respective professions. That is the APPC’s mission and it’s what our members are committed to – improving the way we do things, being fully transparent about who we are working for and in so doing, playing our small role in making democracy function that little bit better.


 


Emily Wallace is deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants.

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