People often ask what I do for a living. My stock answer is: “I’m a lobbyist; but I’m not evil, honest!”
People hear the term lobbyist and automatically think of big business and corrupt politicians.
But the truth isn’t that simple. Or that damning.
Lobbying is simply about getting an organisation’s information and messages to government and politicians in the most effective way possible. That message might be coming from a big private firm or it might be coming from a small charity or a community group. The desired outcome could be anything from reforms to regulation to better support for deprived children.
Lobbying is not the demon it’s made out to be. Lobbyists don’t “operate in the shadows” or work exclusively for big business. Dodgy deals and whispered conversations make great fodder for film and TV, as well as for newspapers, but they’re unlikely to get you very far. You’re much better off with a well informed argument and a well formed message.
Getting politicians and civil servants to see things from your perspective isn’t about sleight of hand; it’s about putting your points across clearly and convincingly. That’s what lobbyists help organisations to do – whether they’re working for big business or small charities.
And so, in a bid to balance the argument, I would like to share a few good news lobbying wins; ways that lobbying has made this world, or at least a small part of it, a slightly brighter, less shadowy place.
The 2012 London Olympics
Shortly after the Labour Government came to power in 1997, the British Olympics Association (BOA) worked with lobbyists to convince the new Government and later the inaugural Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to back a bid for the 2012 Olympics. By working with sportspeople and members of both Houses of Parliament and by capturing the imagination of the public, the BOA successfully brought their message to the Government
Convinced by clear arguments and a strong show of support, the Government backed the campaign and put together a bid to bring the Olympics to London in 2012. The London 2012 Olympics might not have made the world a better place, but it did brighten up London, brought people together across the country, raised the reputation of the UK around the world and inspired millions of people to be more interested in and involved in sports. Team GB’s record medal haul didn’t hurt either.
Talk of big business and evil lobbyists unfailingly comes around eventually to big tobacco companies, who undoubtedly put a lot of time and an awful lot of money into lobbying government. But the tobacco lobby doesn’t get it all their own way. The support for restrictions on smoking and regulations on how cigarettes are sold and advertised has been championed by anti-smoking organisations such as ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), academics and medical professionals and cancer and lung disease charities. These people and organisations came together in a coordinated effort to lobby government. The anti-tobacco campaigners have often won huge victories, thanks to well planned lobbying campaigns, clear messages and wide spread support – hence the advertising ban on tobacco and the ban on smoking in public places, for example.
Settlement rights for Gurkhas
Until 2009 Gurkha veterans who had fought for this country still did not have the right to settle in the UK. However, a major lobbying campaign by the Gurkha community and their supporters brought this issue to the forefront of public debate. The effective lobbying campaign brought on board supporters of the cause and, eventually, secured an opposition day debate on the issue. By ensuring that they had won the argument with a large number of MPs, the Gurkhas managed to achieve a remarkable victory – the first time a government has been defeated in a vote on an opposition day debate since January 1978.
None of these things would have happened without successful lobbying. And there are countless other examples – lead-free petrol, additional funding for cancer treatments and research, the introduction of a minimum wage and the inclusion of PE as a compulsory subject tin schools, to name but a few.