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Is lobbying vital for our democracy?

18th April 2013

Lobbying is an activity that is supposed to be behind the scenes, so when it is in the news, it is always bad news. From the military lobbying scandal to the Independent’s film of lobbyists making unprofessional claims, lobbying is too often portrayed as a dark art.

Yet according to PR professionals, it is a fundamental part of our democracy. As Rupert Lewis, practice director in corporate and public affairs at PR firm Ketchum, says: “The ability for individuals and organisations to be able to lobby their representatives in government (and parliament) is an integral ingredient in any liberal democracy.” He explains that although governments have bureaucracies that make them effective at delivering policy, they may be unaware of public opinion. Lobbyists give them a vital outside viewpoint: “Although, it’s unintentional, the mechanics of government often mean that policy is developed in an institutional vacuum whereby politicians have to rely on the best advice from their civil servants. That’s not to say that it’s not good advice. It is, but it’s from an internal perspective. To obtain a clearer, more vivid picture of any given policy area it’s essential that politicians are able to engage with expert external opinion.

Offering perspective

“It’s the role of lobbyists to help advise external individuals and organisations to present their views or opinions in the most compelling way which will resonate with the policy/legislative objectives of politicians.”

Francis Ingham, PRCA director general, agrees, saying that lobbying “ensures that we have at least the opportunity to make politicians aware of how their decisions will affect our lives, our business, and our assets. In its absence, all we really would have is a once every four or five year referendum. And in the meantime, people governing our country are in the dark, using their own inevitably limited knowledge.”

Scott Dodswoth director of parliamentary relations at defence company BAE Systems, believes that if lobbying is conducted professionally, following proper regulations, it is a key part of our society. He adds: “A successful lobby – and lobbyist – gets politics. The people. The landscape. The future threats and emerging trends. It is also about having the right game plan that is well resourced, with the right people and the right arguments.”

Key skills

So what personality traits do you need to be a great lobbyist? Phil Morgan, director of policy and communication at CIPR, says, “good lobbyists are highly skilled communicators who know when to listen and when to speak. They must be able to make complex issues simple, turning information into clear unambiguous messages. Professional lobbyists operate to a high standard of conduct, knowing the limits of influence the most appropriate and effective means of influencing policy.”

Ketchum’s Lewis agrees that you need to be a good communicator, but adds that you must also be a strategic thinker: “You need to be able to empathise and understand all angles of a clients’ situation, because they will need you to help them clearly articulate their views and seek to demonstrate that ‘their’ contribution can have a meaningful impact on government policy and regulation.”

PRCA’s Ingham points out that In its broadest sense, we are all lobbyists when we do everyday activities such as supporting a planning application. But he does believe there is a skill all professional lobbyists must possess: “To be a professional lobbyist requires only one real characteristic – an interest in politics and the political process. The day politics no longer interests you is the day you should switch jobs – and become something worthy but dull. Like a surveyor.”

Written by Daney Parker

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