The Mercer scandal has underlined the importance of introducing a statutory register of lobbyists with access to Parliament. It is sad that only scandals triggered by journalists, the policemen of politics, bring forward common sense reforms that are long overdue.
But, as always, the devil will be in the detail. There will be no use for registration and regulation if it doesn’t cover all lobbyists, in-house and third parties, big corporations, individuals and charities. Watch for what they propose. Half-measures never bring the desired result – they just delay time until the bubble bursts again, and the real thing will have to happen. It always eventually does.
There is nothing wrong with lobbying as such. It allows interested parties to make and present their case. But when such politics is done in secrecy it makes you wonder what those concerned have to hide. Will these sting operations by the media put off badly-behaved MPs – or just make them more careful with carrying out better research before saying ‘yes’ and accepting the money? People’s trust in politicians is at stake. It is hard to argue why the £2billion lobbying industry shouldn’t be regulated on every level.
It has been reported that Lynton Crosby doesn’t think the introduction of a lobbying bill is a priority. Hopefully now he will understand that transparency must always be a priority. Nick Clegg jumped in first, vowing to introduce a lobbying register by 2015. Another missed opportunity for David Cameron to be seen to be doing the right thing.
While we are at it, being sponsored by trade unions or any other organisation should also be discussed. How can someone go into Parliament when it is already known that their views are not going to be objective and independent because they are “owned” or a least heavily influenced by the organisations that sponsored them?
The majority of Labour's would-be MPs for the 2015 election have links to the unions with 16 candidates enjoying their direct backing. Labour’s biggest donor, Unite, sponsors a quarter of the party's candidates. Perhaps the amounts donated might not be extraordinary, but any kind of sponsorship will inevitably lead to a feeling of obligation, and future MPs are likely to abstain from voting against their benefactors.
The tackling of lobbying and influence adds to the list of reforms that Cameron should seize the agenda on. Others include proper powers of recall for negligent MPs, a ban on consultancy work while sitting as an MP, and minimum thresholds for attending and voting in Parliament and holding constituency surgeries. Only if these are tackled would an increase in salaries be palatable, while also of course serving to lower the temptation for MPs to prioritise making money on the side over their parliamentary responsibilities. But a salary increase should be the final step after everything else is introduced. Doing this before introducing reforms risks further damaging the reputation of British politics after yet another battering of allegations this weekend.
Commuters… – a faceless crowd you are forcefully joined together with, locked in a stuffy carriage. You separate yourself from them with your copy of Metro before you all fall into a tube coma until it’s your time to get off. At first glance, there is nothing in common between us. We are just all so different: old, young, white, black, Asian, locals, tourists, trendy, classy, rich, poor.
Last Friday I braced myself for some serious commuter interaction at Canada Water and Earl's Court tubes fundraising for a charity. Scared of talking to strangers, I said to myself: “I just need to survive the day and reach the goal for this charity.” Perhaps, I was lucky and the weather was good (sunshine tends to melt hearts). But at it turned out, the experience was overwhelmingly positive for me. I actually enjoyed it.
As I approached Londoners from all sort of backgrounds, I noticed how nice they all happened to be. It’s a pity that we tend to hang out just with like-minded people in safe environments, and rarely get the opportunity to interact out of our comfort zone. I hardly ever get to communicate with people much older than me or much younger, and just random people, full stop. It was so lovely to do that. Also, it was a reminder not to judge by appearances. There was a guy with jeans half way down his bottom and a cap saying “DOPE”. He emptied all his pennies and pounds into my little bucket. I cannot describe how much I was moved by it.
I loved mummies giving coins to their children to put in my bucket to teach them to be kind to those less fortunate. My favourite was a little boy with an apple in his hand. His mummy stopped to search for change but didn’t have any. He said: “Mummy, shall I give her my apple then?” I loved German tourists who were all overwhelmingly generous…. I also tried to be as expressively grateful as I could because gratitude encourages people to do good things again and again.
Commuters are London itself, and the experience has re-connected me back with London. If you approach them with a smile they are very likely to smile back. That’s the lesson to all of us.
Hay Festival: an idea…why don’t they give out free tickets to teenagers from poor backgrounds? Or perhaps there are people out there who would like to sponsor their tickets? We must make this beautiful middle-class event interesting and accessible to all, especially youngsters.