Firstly, some definitions:
Lobby (n, Food):
A hearty stew often made from the leftovers of previous meals and any vegetables that are in danger of going out of date if not used. A low cost and efficient use of ingredients, popular in the North of England for those on a budget, or those who just want to make the most of what they have.
An apparently legitimate practice of accepting payments or other benefits in kind in order to influence parliament and introduce or affect legislation beneficial to the sponsoring party.
I much prefer the first definition of ‘Lobby’, it doesn’t leave such a bitter taste in the mouth. Coincidentally, these definitions shared by a common word do go some way towards highlighting the division that is becoming ever present in our riot-ridden societies.
For me, a bowl of Lobby conjures images of bubbling pressure cookers, soft white bread, and big chunks of meat amongst the limp yet tasty vegetables all suspended in a rich, thick gravy. The frugal use of perishables and left-over’s to create such a rustic delight characterises a very British rendering of the working-classes ability to make the most out of the little they have: Chin up, on with the overall’s, back to work, and on way ‘ome, pick up a loaf an we’ll av some lobby with what’s left of Chicken from roast eh?
I can imagine the BBC article, “Lobby: Austerity Food Special! How this hearty Northern dish can help you out through hard times. Our reporter Brian Beluga writes about the week he ate nothing but Lobby to see if this could be the answer for a hungry Britain.”
In true BBC lifestyle, er, style, at some point in the week, the intrepid reporter would mention that “combined with some left-over Caviar I had in the back of my fridge, and washed down with some, nearly flat, Chardonnay, by Wednesday I was getting quite used to Lobby twice a day, but was craving a little variation”. The Lobby itself would probably be “A mix of what I had in the fridge that day, nothing else, all boiled up in a big pot. Luckily, I had rather a large joint of Venison and some rare-bread Pork left over, that was my meat, and what’s this? Courgettes? Artichokes? Aubergine? Okra? Asparagus? And some good old potatoes. At this point, I wasn’t just ready to spend a week on Lobby, I was looking forward to it!”
By the end of the article, after a small bump in the middle of the week where the reporter allowed himself a “comfit duck leg or two from the conference buffet, so as not to be rude, you understand”, the reporter would proudly proclaim that he had managed a week of living like a poor person, calculate the cost of the lobby (by carefully weighing each ingredient, allowing for lack of freshness and discounting accordingly) as being less than 2p a day, and a respected dietician (because the article tells us so) would give some vague appraisal of his health, saying that it perhaps lacked fruit, but was in general quite nutritious. And we can all be happy that, if we have not started eating it already, Lobby was the food we should use to console ourselves for being poorer than the journalist who wrote the piece.
But of course, in the interest of fairness, and possibly the recent revelations about Lords and MPs accepting money on behalf of fake lobby groups to influence our countries laws and policies, we are now treated to another ‘idiot’s guide’ to lobby, but this time, don’t try to dip your spoon in it, unless it is silver and you were born with it in your mouth.
Yes, the pre-predicted ‘lobbying’ crisis is now in full swing. David Cameron, being the astute fellow he is, warned a few years back that this would be the next scandal to hit parliament. I don’t know what tipped him off, maybe it was the fact that he and other senior members of the parties were constantly being asked to stand around on balconies at champagne receptions and talk to representatives of specific interest groups who had somehow managed to appear in front of them, guided by a fat Lord or MP who had insisted they spare at least five minutes to ‘hear what they have to say, I hear that these pay-day lenders are having a rough time in the US, and it would be a shame for the UK not to be the kind of country that allows such a necessary credit to flow for those who need it most.’… or something similar.
So what is Lobbying? I ask myself, and turn to my not-at-all state endorsed/influenced news vendor the BBC to explain, as it does so here:
“Lobbying in order to influence political decisions is widely regarded(?) as a legitimate part of the democratic process. Lobbyists are firms or individuals that are paid to influence such decisions.”
Oh good! That’s clear then. They are a legitimate group of people with money able to influence the democratic process. That’s good. I suppose that means if I ever find myself with a bit of cash and a cause, I have the same access to my elected representatives to push my agenda and that of other like-minded people. I knew there was something missing from this democracy that was making me feel alienated from it and totally unrepresented: Money! So, how much will I need, BBC?
“£4,000 to lobby for business interests in Fiji.”
Well, that’s not really that helpful. I don’t know much about Fiji and I certainly don’t feel like spending that kind of money on it. What else? How about say, pushing the solar energy industry interests?
“Make that… £12,000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that.” – Lord Cunningham.
But actually, as much as renewable energies are probably needed, I don’t run an energy company so that’s not much good to me. What the problem is here, obviously, is that the prices and issues vary so widely we need some kind of I don’t know, regulation, in order to make the process a whole lot easier to understand and a little less morally bankrupt sounding. So lucky us! Now it has been exposed, that’s what we can look forward to:
“A register of lobbyists … would assist MPs in making sensible decisions about who they should be talking to (and ensure) greater transparency about the workings of Parliament”. – MP Robert Buckland.
Brilliant news. So if the likes of Mr Buckland get their way, we will still have private individuals and groups with access to wealth paying for undue, unethical, morally repugnant influence over the democratic systems, but at least we will know who they are, because as you and I know, we are forever perusing the published lists of members interest registers and so forth, as is our inalienable right as citizens. If something pops up on a register somewhere, online or accessible through nothing but a simple freedom-of-information request (which I know we are all forever submitting), and we think it is a bit dodgy, then we will be able to wait a couple of years and then vote the individual out of his seat… if we live in that constituency… or vote out the party he represents…if you believe it is a problem systemic to that party…or we can…?
So who do we turn to in order to solve this crisis of confidence and vested interests rife within our democracy? None other than Nick Clegg! (what a guy). He and the Prime Minister are “determined” no less, to stamp out this practice and reform lobbying, just as they were three years ago, just as Clegg was determined not to introduce tuition fees, just as Cameron was determined not to privatise the NHS (which is happening right now), just as the both of them were going to introduce the ‘right of recall’ for the electorate to banish corrupt or incompetent MPs (still waiting). So we can rest assured that this problem will get resolved just as all those other issues did.
It is unthinkable that the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have not at some point found themselves chin-wagging to a complete stranger at some fund-raiser about some business-specific tax or legislative issue that it would be really handy to get rid of or amend, and ‘oh look! I seem to have decided I want to donate to your party also… I know you haven’t seen me before, but your right-honourable(!) ‘friend’ over there says that we would really get along if we spent just a little more time chatting together…’. Cameron knew it would be the next scandal because he, like all the others, knew that it was, and is, rife in the halls of Westminster and beyond, and worse of all, they aren’t even really pretending that it isn’t. I get nervous when politicians stop pretending that there isn’t a shit-load of corruption and bribery going on and just admit it – because nothing ever happens. So what, a few MPs and lords that no-one really knows about are going to retire happily from duty with all the money they have made by unduly influencing parliament for the last few decades? I’m sure they will be mortified. A new ‘register’ will be created to show who is paying who what and for why, and we are meant to be happy that this practice still happens and that they have taken ‘decisive action’? All the while, this is just the stuff we know about – let us presume that this is the visible tip of the iceberg, and people still want to chant the old mantra – ‘It (UK democracy) might not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got…’ when you dare to venture that the whole system is working against the majority and is unfit for purpose… what else is going on that we don’t, and possibly may never know about? Or do you really believe this to be the antithesis of the problem? That corruption in this country only reaches ‘Fiji’ on the scale? (the scale by the way, goes something like this):
(From Most Corrupt to Least Corrupt)
- Lying about wars
- Recapitalising failed and corrupt private industries with taxes and then pretending this never happened and blaming it on the welfare state and public services.
- Causing the deaths and despair of hundreds of thousands of disabled and economically/socially destitute people as a result of the above and the reformation of the welfare state.
- Allowing major businesses to exploit tax loop-holes introduced by the same accountancy firms contracted by the government to write the tax rules who are simultaneously advising the corporations as to how to break them.
- Lying about expenses
And again, these are just the ones we know about.
My favourite quote in today’s coverage of this not-so-new-but-all-of-a-sudden-current scandal was this:
“What would really solve the problem would be to make it a criminal offence for any lobby group to offer cash,” – Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics at Liverpool University.
This really is my favourite quote, because I agree with it, but it will never happen and I doubt you find many MPs asking for the same. For me, no MP, Lord, or senior civil servant should have any other interests outside of the little task of running the country. None, whatsoever. But this would be absurd! How can MPs survive on as little as £65,000 a year? I mean the Lords don’t get paid, except for expenses, which include up to £45,000 purely in housing costs, let alone the £150 or so each day, just for turning up (expenses of course, not a salary, that would be WRONG!).
The media circus will dance around this for a little while, some legislation will be promised and maybe even introduced (all be it in a watered-down, unworkable and largely symbolic way) and we will all just carry on usual. We forget that we are just animals on an island who at some point decided that it was easier to work together if we voted to resolve disagreements and set our priorities, but instead, over time, rather than voting on decisions, sociopaths convinced us that it would be easier to vote on a person who could just make those decisions in your stead. From that point on we were doomed to suffer the whims of the powerful who keep many of us just happy enough to forget that we can remove them in whatever way we want, not just within the framework that they control and contort to their own ends. If we decided the whole rotten bunch of them need to go – go they will. There are 62 MILLION of us, and only around 1500 mp/lords. I think we would win. Wouldn’t it be nice if they remembered that now and again and stopped being such corrupt bastards?
As always, I’m sure there are the honest few who would never dream of allowing themselves to be corrupted, bribed or influenced, but they must know that it is going on all around them. How can you operate in such an environment? How can you not make corruption the top of your personal and professional agenda if you ‘believe’ in democracy? How can you prop up the likes of such people? Where are the whistle blowers? Where are the great reformers? Hello? Are you out there? Because if you are, a lot of people would probably vote for you if you stood up to these landed, privileged, career politicians and spoke some truth to power on our behalf. I look forward to your candidacy and your manifesto that promises to shut down the party donor systems, shut down the lobbying systems, prevent elected representatives having any other interests other than that of the electorate, introduce a true recall system, embrace technology and the power of the referendum to return responsibility to the citizens and just represent us, don’t rip us off or repress us, just represent us.
It’s not much to ask for, is it? So in the meantime, let’s just tuck into a bowl of lobby instead, it’s much better for you and it doesn’t cost £12,000 a month.
Any unaccredited quotes can be found in these articles: