Lobbyists. What an evil bunch. How could anyone get involved in such a cynical art, eh?
Yes, we lobbyists can often feel a bit like estate agents, or traffic wardens, or lawyers – one of those professions that some people wrinkle their noses at. But in reality, as with anything, there is good and ethical lobbying and there is bad lobbying. Effective, ethical and transparent lobbying is an essential part of the policy making process, and frankly, without lobbyists Government decisions would be a lot less well informed. What’s more, proper lobbying is governed by a code of conduct and a code of ethics, including declaring any and all meetings with Ministers.
And then there is bad lobbying. Enter David Cameron…. The ins and outs of the case are not fully clear, but it does increasingly seem like Dave was misbehaving. Undeclared meetings communicated via text. Clear influencing going under the radar. It doesn’t exactly reflect glowingly on our former PM.
The truth is though, Cameron is a red herring politically. If he is the only person who ends up looking bad from this then Boris will be a happy man, because no one cares about Cameron anymore. But what people might care about is the wider notion that our Government runs a ‘chumocracy’. Time and time again over the past year there have been stories about people winning Government contracts who just so happen to know Ministers, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
Labour’s goal is to use the Greensill affair as further evidence of this sort of sleazy nepotism. And he will focus as much on what people like Rishi Sunak knew as what Cameron did. The argument is a bit muddled though. After all, Cameron’s lobbying attempts were unsuccessful – Greensill did not get what he was asking for, and the company has in fact now collapsed completely. The Government can use this to fairly point out that achieving results is clearly not all about connections.
Overall, this is probably not going to be a scandal that rocks the Government long term. It may add to a vague public sense that they are ‘dodgy’, but equally, it might be completely forgotten about in a few weeks’ time. As the country comes out of lockdown, there are more important things happening.
But for the lobbying industry, the Greensill affair is significant because the word ‘lobbying’ is once again being dragged through the mud, and that is down to ex-politicians like Cameron doing it a disservice, and not any actual lobbyist doing anything wrong. The world of lobbying is best left to actual professionals, not someone coming out of Downing Street and hoping to make a quick buck from his phone book.