Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeFurther written evidence submitted by Tamasin Cave, SpinWatch


1. During the first session of the Committee’s inquiry into the Government’s proposals for introducing a statutory register of lobbyists (2 February 2012), Members asked for evidence that there is growing public concern with lobbying.

2. To date, very few public surveys have focused specifically on attitudes towards lobbying in the UK. However, a number of opinion polls and reports do exist, which reflect public concern over issues of access and influence in politics.

3. Most notably, a Sunday Times/YouGov poll conducted in October 2011 showed that over 50% of people think that lobbyists have too much influence in politics. The poll also showed that three quarters of people now support a register of lobbyists.1

4. This supports the conclusions of the Public Administration Select Committee’s lengthy inquiry into lobbying. The Committee’s 2009 report Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall states:

There is a genuine issue of concern, widely shared and reflected in measures of public trust, that there is an inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence.2

5. The Committee’s central conclusion was that “reform is necessary”, and it highlighted the dangers of ignoring public concerns:

The result of doing nothing would be to increase public mistrust of Government, and to solidify the impression that government listens to favoured groups—big business and party donors in particular—with far more attention than it gives to others.3

6. A 2008 report by the Conservative Party Democracy Task Force, Trust in Politics made a similar observation:

In recent years, a crisis of trust has enveloped governments of both parties. The Conservative government of 1992–97 was constantly accused of “sleaze” and the loss of the party’s reputation for probity was a significant factor in the massive defeat of 1997. The New Labour government that followed promised, famously, to be “whiter than white”. The subsequent disillusionment has been, if anything, still greater. A steady troop of forced ministerial resignations has been accompanied by serious questions over the access to power and patronage that money can buy.4

7. This acknowledgement of the link between money, access and influence, and a decline in public trust was strongly reaffirmed in a speech on lobbying by David Cameron in February 2010, called Rebuilding Trust in Politics:

I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.5

8. There is insufficient data to show that the public concern expressed by the Prime Minister, PASC and others is greater now than in the past. However, we do know that the size of the lobbying industry in the UK has grown dramatically in recent years, and that it is likely that public concern will have increased as a result. One estimate suggests that the industry has doubled in size since the early 1990s.6The industry estimates that there are now 3,500–4,000 full-time lobbyists (consultants and in-house) in the UK.7

9. However, data from the 2006 Power inquiry, which sought to discover why disengagement from formal democratic politics in Britain has grown in recent years, does provide further evidence of public concern with lobbying.

10. A key finding of the inquiry was that “business is widely cited by the public as having greater influence over government than citizens”, a point, it noted, that was raised many times in the evidence it took. It cited a number of indicative quotes from the submissions it received, such as: “It is not just perception that corporate lobbying influences government policy—it is actuality. Until the actuality changes, the perception will not.”; and: “The influence of big companies is endemic; they have the time and the money whereas most individuals do not.”8

11. This finding reflects an ICM “State of the Nation” poll in 2004, which showed that 79% of people said they felt large corporations had influence over government policies, while only 34% felt they ought to enjoy such influence.9

12. The Power inquiry took evidence from people both inside Westminster and the general public. It is worth noting that the inquiry recorded a “palpable difference” between the public response and the “insider” response: “The politicos have no idea of the extent of the alienation that is out there,” it said.

February 2012

1 YouGov/Sunday Times poll, 23 October 2011.

2 Public Administration Select Committee (2009) Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall, p 3.

3 Public Administration Select Committee press release, 5 January 2009

4 Conservative Party Democracy Task Force (2008) Trust in Politics, p 1.

5 David Cameron, 8 February 2010, “Rebuilding Trust in Politics” speech.

6 Thompson, S and John, S (2002) Public Affairs in practice: a practical guide to lobbying, pp 4–5.

7 APPC, PRCA, CIPR Working Party (2009) Towards a Public Affairs Council Issues Paper, p 8.

8 Power Inquiry final report (2006), Power to the People.

9 ICM poll of 2,000 people, June 2004.

Prepared 12th July 2012