Is lobbying destroying our faith in politics?

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The scandal on British MPs` expenses is still fresh but the next one is already `round the corner.

Today the Sunday Times featured the Channel 4 TV programme "Dispatches" that reveals the unregulated world of political lobbying. By pretending to be a fictional US public affairs company, journalists arranged meetings with several senior politicians and asked them if they were interested in a position on the advisory board of their (fictional) London office in order to get priviledged access to Downing Street No 10. Most of them agreed to help win government contracts, provide confidential information and lobby the right people, some even bragged about what they have already achieved for private c
orporate interests while still serving as MPs.

Well, these interviews were filmed by a hidden camera - gotcha.

Stephen Byers, former transport minister and known as close to Tony Blair, even referred to himself as a "cab to hire". A nice referrence to Mohamad al-Fayed who famously said 16 years ago: "You can hire an MP the way you hire a London taxi". So it seems like not much has changed. In the video, Byers boasts he had saved "hundreds of millions of pounds for National Express" and had "delayed and amended food labelling proposals for Tesco". He also mentions his close ties to former PM Tony Blair, saying: "If there`s an event, we could have a word with Tony, say come along for a drink."
And now we know exactly what buying an MP costs: Patricia Hewitt, former health secretary mentioned the sum of 3000 GBP a day, Byers said 3000 - 5000 GBP.

The revelations have transferred the pressure over Westminster sleaze that was previously focused on Lord Ashcroft on the Tories onto the Labour goverment. Of course David Cameron immediately took the chance to air himself, acting shocked and demanding a closer investigation. And being 6 weeks away from the elections, this might just tip the scales for Tory. But does it really matter?

This scandal once more reveals the corruptly politics really are - it is just another evidence for what most voters already know. No wonder a whole generation lost its faith in national politics whatsoever. All this isn`t harming Labour, Tories or Liberals in particular but politics in general: it`s only reinforcing the voters` disenchantment with politics. Even worse: the only parties benefiting from this could be radical ones.

And as always, transparency and honesty are not even considered for resolving the issue. Gordon Brown and the Labour government pretend to be shocked and the MPs caught on tape, as well as the companies they`ve been lobbying for say the allegations were exaggerated.

And in the middle of this, of course, stands PR. Lobbying, public affairs, political PR - the dark side of the industry, undermining the public trust in politics. Some would even call it the single biggest threat to our democratic health. What no one seems to get is that scandals like this hurt the reputation of public relations as a profession just as much as they hurt our trust in politicians. And once the trust is gone, it`s the hardest thing to be regained.


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