Blog: Friends with benefits

Concern over the use of lobbying continues to grow with this government. Reform is needed now and the sleaze must stop

The Greensill scandal has once again brought the murky world of lobbying back to the attention of the wider public. As more evidence comes to light of the cosy relationship between the Conservative Party, lobbyists and the private sector, it’s more important than ever that those of us who care about public services – and decency in public life – speak out.

Whether it’s David Cameron casually texting Cabinet ministers to do favours for his pals or Boris Johnson bending over backwards to accommodate James Dyson’s tax needs – both during a global pandemic that brought our country to its knees – the Establishment club is on full display.

All of them ​are happy to do each other a favour, to scratch each other’s back​s – but it’s for their benefit, not ours ​or the greater good. It’s public services, and the workers ​that help run them, who are the victims of this Tory sleaze. Just compare and contrast the differences between the roll out of Test and Trace – £37bn wasted by private company failures – and the vaccination programme, which cost £12bn and was effectively and efficiently delivered by the NHS.

And yet, at the same time, ​ministers think NHS workers are ​only worth ​a mere 1%​ and that others in the public sector deserve no pay rise at all. David Cameron apparently never thought to wonder why NHS staff might be under financial strain, when a decade of Conservative government has pushed ​health workers to the brink. What they need is decent pay – not daily pay. ​Unfortunately that appears not to have occurred to anyone involved in this tawdry saga.

This whole, rotten business (and politics has become a business, to the detriment of working people) needs to change. Yet when we fight back, it’s trade unionists they want to restrict, limit, curb and examine. It’s those fighting for working people they target, not those fighting to line their own pockets at our expense.

We’ve already seen the Tories and their friends in the media attempting – just as they’ve done after previous lobbying scandals – to deflect attention onto trade unions and our relationship with the Labour Party. It’s a sham argument that exists only to distract from wrongdoing at the heart of government.

Unions founded the Labour Party, we’re affiliated to ​it and we ​seek to influence ​it. ​When we do, we do it transparently – both because that’s how we do our business, and because union activity is the most regulated activity in the political world.

What’s needed now, once and for all, is action to end the influence of the shadowy influence-peddlers who serve only the wealthy and big businesses, not the many.

There can be no more delays, no further long-grass exercises and no more mealy mouthed statements. It’s time for transparency and accountability in government – and with the use of public funds. No-one would be naive enough to say that lobbying could or should be done away with, but the least we should expect is transparency, honesty and ​decent standards.

David Cameron ​and James Dyson texting ​their mates in government might not have broken any rules, but it shows why reform is needed. And it also shows why, at their core, the Conservatives are unable to deliver that reform – because the cosy status quo suits them and their friends just fine. It seems we’re back to the bad old days where sleaze is almost synonymous with ​​Conservative governments. Maybe we could ​relabel these ​activities as NfT – Normal for Tories! ​

The sleaze must stop.