Tuesday, 24 February 2015

"Cash for access": the repercussions for East Devon

How will the scandal at Westminster over 'cash for access' effect East Devon?

The scandal could well turn voters against the mainstream parties:
The 'anti-politics' bunch will benefit most from the 'cash for access' allegations » Spectator Blogs

It will remind voters about a similar sting two years ago:
MP who had ” done nothing wrong” resigns – deja-vu in East Devon | East Devon Watch
Councillors for hire who give firms planning advice - Telegraph
Futures Forum: Ex-Cllr Graham Brown, the East Devon Business Forum and the District Council's CEO's pre-emptive strike against the Business TAFF

The District Council has looked at, but not 'resolved', the question of 'What is lobbying?':
Futures Forum: Probity, accountability and transparency
Futures Forum: "What is lobbying?"... "Openness and transparency is vital."
Futures Forum: Transparency and lobbying: District Council "agrees with the principle" of "declaring any contact with developers or campaign groups"
Futures Forum: Transparency and lobbying: District Council to consider report re 'significant lobbying': Tuesday 20th January

And the question continues to be asked as to what extent certain interests have managed to gain access:
Futures Forum: Lobbying: big business and big government in East Devon
Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part nine ....... "The local development framework would enable businesses to progress land allocation. It was agreed that the strategy should reflect the Forum’s views."

Last year, there were grave concerns expressed about the 'lobbying bill' - which will come into force before the election:
Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill to become law

But the system doesn't seem to be working:

'Cash for access' scandal: Lobbying clean-up law that failed to stop MP scandals

‘Dog’s breakfast’ act targeted charities and missed its mark


Monday 23 February 2015

On the eve of becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron promised to tackle the under-the-radar industry of ministers, former ministers and special advisers using their political influence in return for cash. He described this “lobbying industry” as “out of control.”

One of Mr Cameron’s flagship solutions to prevent “the next big scandal waiting to happen” is supposed to kick in just before parliament breaks up for the general election.

The register for lobbyists who contact ministers and senior civil servants – a key part of the awkwardly named “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act” – is designed to record ministerial meetings, increase transparency, and list the money being put up to buy political influence.

But during its fast-tracked progress through the Commons, the head of the constitution committee that scrutinised the new law, called it a “dog’s breakfast” and predicted: “We will all be back in a year facing another scandal.”

The forecast by Graham Allen was out by only a couple of months. The new cash-for-access allegations against two former Foreign Secretaries, Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, suggest little has changed inside parliament’s culture since the scandals that led to Liam Fox’s resignation as Defence Secretary in 2011, and the damage to the Labour Party that followed the former Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, being caught on camera in 2010 saying he was a “cab for hire” who would work for £5,000 a day.

The new lobbying bill, according to Mr Allen, “has mistakenly roped in innocent charities and others in the voluntary sector instead of looking at the key issue of MPs who believe it is perfectly acceptable for them to hold second jobs and be highly paid for doing so.”

Iain Anderson, chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, said: “There are no lobbyists to be seen in this latest scandal. And the new legislation and register will do nothing to stop this happening again and again.” Instead of looking at the behaviour of rogue MPs, Mr Anderson accused the Prime Minister of taking the easy option. “What we have ended up with is a law that is simply a misfit, a bill that gags the wrong people, and misses the entire point,” he said.

Jack Straw defends himself to the media after falling for a ‘sting’ operation

The new regulation excludes all in-house lobbyists working for companies such as banks, energy firms, and those who act for large corporations. Specialist lobby firms need to list direct contact with ministers (which is rare); but do not have to list their dealings with special advisers (which are frequent). Details about deals, activities, or their financial relationships, are exempt.

Transparency campaigners, such as Spinwatch, have said the bill fails because it is unable to offer insight into who is influencing government.

A wider consequence of the act means charities speaking out on issues that have a party-political connotation will be effectively gagged. Oxfam have said they could be silenced during the election campaign because of fears their comments will be interpreted as supporting one party. Amnesty International UK have warned their associate organisations to be “vigilant” and to track expenditure.

Mr Allen warned: “It is still not too late for the government to admit they were fixed on the wrong target. They should postpone the introduction of the lobbying register and admit that with yet another cash-for-access scandal on our hands, the intended clean-up law is, as I’ve said, a dog’s breakfast.”

'Cash for access' scandal: Lobbying clean-up law that failed to stop MP scandals - UK Politics - UK - The Independent
Cash-for-access MPs scandal: Two views, from the lobbying industry and Parliament | PR Week

Another reason for the mess Westminster could be the 'need' for an extra income stream:

Safe seats and second jobs are at the root of the Rifkind-Straw mess

Tuesday 24 February 2015

The latest cash-for-access scandal engulfing Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind has exposed something rotten in British politics. It is abhorrent and unacceptable. We must now overhaul how we regulate the relationship between MPs and external influences.

MPs are elected by their constituents to represent them in parliament. What’s on offer in exchange is an opportunity to deliver real, meaningful change.

We do have many MPs who are committed to that role. Many of us work night and day to get through our work. We find it is the equivalent of having two full-time jobs – one in Westminster and one in the constituency.

But there are just far too many who don’t behave that way. They’ve been here so long a sense of duty morphs into one of entitlement. They get caught up with the pomp and ceremony, allowing the link between the public and their parliamentary role to unravel.

At the crux of this failure is our electoral system. Safe seats generate complacency. They give many MPs the opportunity to sit back, knowing they’ll get re-elected again and again. This was captured crudely by a Labour MP recently: even if “a raving alcoholic paedophile” were selected as a candidate, he said, his seat would still be kept.

And it is often in safe seats where some MPs find they have enough time to take on two jobs. Suddenly they believe they don’t need to respond to casework or do the work in parliament. They are above all that – and why shouldn’t they earn £5,000 a day at the end of their careers?

That needs to change. MPs should only be allowed to take up a second job if the circumstances are genuinely exceptional – for example, if they are a doctor and need to do the odd hours so they don’t forget vital skills. But when this is allowed, great care must be taken to scrupulously avoid any conflicts of interest, real or perceived

MPs exist to represent their constituencies. Plain and simple. They aren’t there to enable companies to access British ambassadors or to operate “under the radar”.

This moment needs to be seized to transform our system so that it is more open and trustworthy. Some MPs clearly haven’t learned the lesson of the expenses scandal. The public need that to change.

Safe seats and second jobs are at the root of the Rifkind-Straw mess | Julian Huppert | Comment is free | The Guardian

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