Letters: Politics and the role of lobbying

The revelation that the British financial services industry is lobbying (City’s lobbying bill revealed, 10 July) should come as no surprise in a nation where lobbying operates as a necessary and integral part of the democratic process. The City and its regulatory framework are rightly subjected to key political decisions. So it is absolutely essential that the City’s voice should be heard.

The role of lobbying is to ensure that politicians are informed of all issues before making key policy decisions, and we all have a right to put forward our arguments to government. Therefore we must avoid making politicised judgments on who can and cannot lobby.

What the article does reveal is that the government’s proposals on a statutory register of lobbyists do not go far enough. Every organisation should have the freedom to lobby; but it should also be transparent in the process if we are to gain public trust in our political institutions. Only a universal register that covers all lobbyists – be they public affairs consultancies, powerful in-house lobbyists such as Fred Michel, or trade bodies such as ours – will provide the transparency the public deserves.
Francis Ingham
Chief executive, Public Relations Consultants Association

•?The revelations that the Financial Services Authority is influencing financial regulation in the interests of the City (City watchdog works with banking groups on lobbying, papers reveal, 11 July) are startling. But the FSA’s ability to influence policy in favour of the banks extends even further, as it has seconded staff into every UK and European institution involved in financial reform.

Last month, one FSA secondee to the European parliament wrote a proposed amendment to draft EU regulation to limit financial speculation on food prices. If passed, the amendment would drastically weaken measures to prevent speculation by banks from causing massive spikes in the cost of basic foods.

This is just one more instance of the so-called watchdog acting in the interests of the sector it is supposed to regulate, rather than in the public interest.
Deborah Doane
Director, World Development Movement

•?I was bemused to read your report on the City of London corporation and our alleged role as a lobbying organisation (From Wat Tyler to tax cuts: how the corporation keeps Square Mile safe for capital, 10 July). As the piece acknowledges, the City corporation openly promotes the international competitiveness of UK financial and professional services for the benefit of the nation as a whole. It is no secret, therefore, that in doing so elected City representatives – including myself – interact with government ministers and other politicians. But to imply that in communicating the City’s point of view or by hosting ceremonial events we have secured any policy changes against the public interest is absurd.

The statement that the City corporation has “43 media staff” and a “50-strong economic development unit sifting through international regulations” is similarly overblown. The actual number for media and public affairs staff is 12, while the corresponding figure for economic development and attracting inward investment is 14. All the other staff in both areas are dedicated to work such as supporting local communities across London or helping to look after the City’s residents and visitors.

The City corporation does not hide the fact that it makes the case for UK financial and professional services. But we are not wilfully blind cheerleaders: we have, for example, been strongly critical of parts of the banking industry over Libor manipulation.

Financial services remains an industry that is worth promoting internationally because it underpins jobs and growth across the UK. The City corporation does this promotion in a transparent manner free of party politics.
Mark Boleat
Policy chairman, City of London corporation

•?On a wall of a building in central Cambridge (which, until recently, housed a branch of Barclays bank) there is a blue plaque identifying it as the site of the home of John Mortlock, 1755-1816, and where he opened the first banking house in Cambridge. At the bottom of the plaque there is a quotation: “That which you call corruption I call influence.” Perhaps this is the foundation for the current banking scandals.
Arthur Alderton
Melbourn, Cambridgeshire

•?It is not just the fault of politicians that we now face a crisis of confidence in our democratic system (Letters, 11 July). We, the great British voting public, should accept part of the responsibility. How can we continue to tolerate the state of affairs reported in your paper last week: “One in six peers have paid links with financial services”; “Political parties get staff and services donated by ‘big four’; “City watchdog works with banking groups on lobbying, papers reveal”?

Why does the great British voting public still refuse to accept the need to fund our political parties from our own individual financial resources? Surely, it is in all citizens’ interests to free our political representatives from the pitfalls of having to rely on funding from wealthy special-interest groups. Unfettered democratic decision-making requires that every citizen of voting age, old or young, should be prepared to pay a political levy of one pound per person per year. This considerable, democratically raised sum would then be divided between the political parties according to the level of support that they receive through the ballot box. All other donations to political parties should be prohibited by law. By these means, any other donations will be seen for what they are, bribes. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Donald Elliott
Ipswich, Suffolk

•?Tamasin Cave (We must fight back against these City lobbyists, 11 July) suggests we write to our MP to demand greater transparency around the City’s lobbying machine. I wonder how the outgoing head of the British Bankers’ Association, Angela Knight, would have received such representations when a Conservative MP.
Dr Alex May

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