Recent revelations that three former government ministers have been caught by journalists expressing a willingness to use their access and influence to lobby in return for payment are indicative of a deeper crisis of accountability and public confidence in the political system, says a leading reform organisation.
Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party pending further investigation, with opposition MPs calling for a formal enquiry.
Peter Facey, CEO of Unlock Democracy which was formed in 2007 as the successor to Charter 88 and the New Politics Network, commented: "This latest incident illustrates how the political class have consistently failed to take the growing sense that Parliament is riddled with sleaze seriously. Even after the lobbying scandal that rocked the House of Lords in 2009 and the expenses scandal, far too many politicians still see nothing wrong with using their privileged position for personal enrichment."
He continued: "Unlock Democracy and other members of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency have been making the case for more openness about the UK lobbying industry for years now and the public administration select committee called for a mandatory register of activity more than a year ago."
"We are tired of only seeing government action after the stable door has bolted which all too often vanishes into the ether once the headlines have died down," said Facey. "Our political system is now rotted to the core and demands a systematic overhaul, not yet another half-hearted promise."
The Unlock Democracy CEO declared: "It is time Parliament went back to basics. MPs should work solely on behalf of their constituents and be accountable to them. It is crucial that we have a statutory register of lobbying activity to ensure that this is the case, but it is also important that lobbying is not defined too narrowly so that politicians can continue to sell their expertise and contacts to the highest bidder whilst being able to claim to not be involved in the business [of] pressuring ministers themselves."
Unlock Democracy is a founding member of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and has presented evidence to the public administration select committee's investigation into lobbying.
It is also a member of the reform coalition Power2010 (www.Power2010.org.uk/), alongside Ekklesia and other civic, monitoring and advocacy bodies committed to reshaping Britain's broken political system.