I am not exactly sure what Patrick Mercer has done. He has clearly been up to no good, not for the first time. Whether he has been corrupt, well we will have to wait for the morning’s Telegraph to provide us with the details to help us form an opinion. However, the one thing I am clear about is that whatever has or hasn’t happened, it is not a “lobbying” scandal.
Once again the allegations relate to the behaviour of a politician, or as we will certainly discover in the morning politicians, not of a professional lobbyist. The temptation to blame the public affairs industry will be great, and indeed the BBC has already linked the story to the Coalition’s failure to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists.
But let me be clear the only way that the existence of a register could have stopped what Mercer is alleged to have done (which for those of you aren’t aware is to have been paid to promote the interests of Fuji in parliament, specifically advocating for its re-admittance into the Commonwealth), is that he could have checked the identity of the “consultants” against the register and might have found they were not bona fide consultants. But then again the journalists involved in the sting might have thought about that and covered their tracks.
A statutory register will not stop politicians being stupid and/or greedy. And that is what this episode reveals. Indeed all the recent so-called “lobbying scandals” have been about politicians either being incapable of resisting filthy lucre or of being guilty of hubris, mainly the former.
It has been a long time since an actual lobbyist has been found to be corrupt. That is because the profession is well regulated and goes to great lengths to train new entrants to understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. I am not sure that MPs and Peers get the same training.
As I have written before, I am happy to support a statutory register but am a firm believer that it should not be limited to public affairs consultants working in agencies but to all those who engage in public affairs activities including in-house practionners.