A recent PRWeek article perked my interest where they talked to the man behind the political blog Guido Fawkes, Paul Staines who is quoted as saying "What I would like to see is much more above-the-counter lobbying". He went on to say "There is a legitimate role for lobbying, but I don't want it to be over coffee and cigars after a meal. I want it to be up-front and out in the open - like a political campaign."
I agree there is a legitimate role for lobbying, and that everyone within the lobbying industry should act with decorum, ethically and with goodness. Of course we are all human, and while the likes of Buddhism teaches that everyone is intrinsically good, I fall into the group that believes humans have too much of a capacity to breach acceptable behaviour. I am a natural born cynic.
And I don't believe for one moment that a political campaign is up front and out in the open. And I have seen enough politics to know that a lot of business is conducted outside of the lime light, both for the common good and not.
Guido's moral crusade is interesting, coming as it does on the back of political shinnanigins that have undermined our confidence in the politicians' ability to abide by their own code of conduct. Lobbying is an easy target as it smacks of brown envelopes and full of 'Mad Men', and is another thing for people to feel aggrieved at.
However, lobbying happens everyday. When a constituent goes to an elected representative with an issue, or when a voluntary/community organisation wants a policy changed or shifted, or a piece of legislation implemented. If the organisation is a private company, does this make lobbying bad then?
The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) sets out one of its three main roles as "To ensure transparency and openness by maintaining a register of political consultants". Its two others are "To enforce high standards by requiring members to adhere to a code of conduct" and "To promote understanding of the public affairs sector, and the contribution made by political consultants to a properly functioning democracy, amongst politicians, the media and others".
Maybe it needs to do more in these roles to create better understanding about public affairs and what it all encompasses.
Westminster has also been looking at this issue through the Public Administration Committee with its 'First Report - Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall'. I think a debate is healthy and should help to clarify what actually is lobbying. I suspect the debate will continue.
My only reservation about the whole debate is that attention is being placed on a profession that is about communicating policy changing messages to the right people at the right time and missing the wider context. Lobbying also covers community groups and voluntary groups right up to the big public affairs companies that have any number of different clients.
Democracy functions because of the ability to lobby, and public affairs is a vital part of the whole policy formation process.
I hope Guido realises the irony of his position, as he lobbys for greater transparency in lobbying.