Kevin suggests that what the lobbying scandals need are an improved political class. He writes interestingly when he says:
The correct place to start is to recognise that most MPs – in all parties – are pretty straight. Let’s encourage them to know their own minds a bit more. And let’s provide them with proper independent policy support to help them formulate their own positions on the key issues.
One observation before we continue: whilst I agree that most MPs are likely to be straight, I am inclined also to believe that the higher up the greasy pole they get, the less straight they become. This is a serious issue, of course, because the higher up they are, the more disproportionate their influences.
Anyhow. Kevin continues to write interestingly when he concludes the following (the bold is mine):
The conspiracy theorists and gesture politics mob who want to choke-off lobbying will simply fail to do so if ministers come forward with weak measures, or we will see our democracy asphyxiated if they come forward with clumsy, catch-all ones.
But let’s use this moment to change politics as much as lobbying. Unless we beef-up our MPs’ ability to shape the policy agenda, rather be shaped by lobbyists of whatever hue, we will have missed a trick.
And the bottom feeders of the lobbying world will get away scot-free when this latest, predictable and toothless attempt to clean-up the industry fails to do just that.
I said much the same thing when I suggested the following recently, with respect to the related subject of party political funding and PR. Which is precisely why I argued in favour of a system whereby customers of companies could decide whether to make a purchase on the basis of a traffic-light labelling system which explained how much an organisation was spending on funding and PR per political party. In fact, I expanded on the theme in another post the other day on the subject of a US site called sopatrack.com. Here, tools which scrape publicly available data help determine which US congressmen and women vote “with the money” – money the wider constituents of the American Congress may raise for their own, often grubby, purposes.
The virtues of the above two ideas? Both of them give back to the voters the knowledge that translates into power – without requiring the current political class to change, a priori, its behaviours. The only legislation we would actually need would be freedom of information powers to access the necessary datasets where access did not currently exist. Not a small order, I do have to accept – but far easier an order to define and delimit than the diffuse desire to do something about political corruption.
So whilst Kevin is right – we do need a political class with more backbone (which, as he rightly points out, does imply independent means to study matters of modern import accurately and objectively) – the constituency he misses out of the equation, the voters themselves, also needs a greater capacity to oversee what’s going on.
And the tools I mention above, providing not a political straitjacket but rather constructive carrots and sticks, could achieve just that.