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External lobbying is increasingly an irrelevance. In many major policy areas vested interests are right at the heart of government, in what amounts to a serious subversion of democracy.
Take the crucial area of energy policy. Remember ‘Vote blue, go green’? As David Cameron’s commitment to green issues looks less convincing by the day, a steady stream of disillusioned people have left government to be replaced by climate change sceptics like Peter Lilley.
But perhaps for renewable energy, the game was already up in June 2010, when Mr. Cameron appointed Lord Browne to a rather shadowy but very powerful role. As the government website explains:
‘Lord Browne of Madingley was appointed as Government Lead Non-Executive in June 2010. His remit is to work with Secretaries of State to appoint non-executives to the board of each government department; to improve governance across Whitehall; and to build leadership and management through the non-executives and the boards. Lord Browne also convenes network meetings of non-executives across Whitehall to consider the big issues that challenge all government departments and share best practice.’
It is difficult to imagine a role with more power to influence the ethos and direction of the government, all in the hands of a man who is unelected and unaccountable. Lord Browne now has appointees throughout Whitehall.
Crucially, Lord Browne is also Chairman and part owner of Cuadrilla Resources Holdings Ltd, the company which is determined to exploit shale gas reserves in the UK through the process of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. With their own man at the heart of government, what will stand in the way of an industry which, in other areas of the world, stands accused of polluting the water supply and numerous other environmental violations, all with the purpose of extracting and burning yet more fossil fuel.
In health policy, the government, and indeed Parliament in general, also stands accused of being intimately connected to the private interests that stand to profit from its policies. At the Local Medical Committee Conference last month, doctors were scathing in their criticism of the government in this regard. Dr. Francesco Scaglioni said:
‘The definition of fraud also includes a personal thing, something intended to deceive others. [Prime Minister David] Cameron says there would be no top down reorganisation of the NHS. But MPs are acting as strategic advisors to private companies. Those companies are now running our hospitals. There are 266 parliamentarians with recent or current ties with healthcare services.’
Dr. Laurence Buckman, chair of the GP Council, added:
‘Who’s advising the Government? Who’s interested in advice? People who have a vested interest in private commercial healthcare. Sticking an NHS lozenge over a private business does not make it an NHS organisation.’
We now know that top accountancy firms send their own staff into HMRC to help them write the tax rules, and we’re familiar with the ‘revolving door’ that has always existed between the Ministry of Defence and the arms trade, so one is forced to ask: isn’t lobbying now a rather quaint concept?
Why would large corporations need to lobby the government from the outside, when they can get inside and exert more influence than our own elected representatives, our lowly MPs?
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet