Friday, October 09, 2009

When Lobbyists Should Be Seen & Not Heard

Tim Montgomerie is bang with THIS article. He talks about the number of NGOs and lobbyists at the conference and how they tended to hijack fringe meetings. I had my own experience of this at a Conservative Women's Organisation fringe where each of the first three questions came from NGOs. I then banned them from asking any more and got a round of applause for my troubles.

Lobbyists should recognise that party conferences are conferences for the party, and not for them. They may have paid a fortune for their passes, but they are there as observers and not active participants. Party conferences experience little enough conferring as it is, without time being taken up by those with a (paid) axe to grind intervening.

I should make it clear that I am not criticising lobbyists for doing what they do - they often perform a valuable task. But at times, they should recognise that they are best seen and not heard.

Here endeth the lesson. :)


Anon E. Mouse said...

Off topic: is your radio show ever coming back?

Iain Dale said...

Sadly not. The radio station went into administration, which was a shame.

However, I am going to be presenting the odd show on LBC. So keep a listen out for those!

Anonymous said...

When did the relief charities start calling themselves NGO's?

Anonymous said...

Party members seem cheerful enough to turn up to the room the lobbyist rented, quaff the wine and canapes the lobbyist bought, and barrack the shadow minister the lobbyist secured. Are lobbyists really that parasitic?

Jonathan Sheppard said...

Not sure I completely agree. Many of the fringe events themselves will have been organised by lobbying companies on behalf of corporate clients.

Your ightly indicate how much corporates pay for passes. Indeed the party for example charges Royal Mail for having a stand that offers a service - namely collecting post, and even charged a tidy sum for the passes that the postmen/women have to have to get through security.

Also - not sure party conference has been something for members for many years. It really is more of a rally than anything else - and an expensive one to attend at that.

An easy way to solve any perceived issue if to say only certain type of pass holders can ask questions... but would you also say members of the media can't ask a question it's not their conference either.

PS - Why LBC when you have an open invite to Tory Radio! Lol

View from the Solent said...

'Are lobbyists really that parasitic?'

Sunder Katwala said...


You might want to check the Cameronite handbook, as you risk veering dramatically off-message. I understand that civic society and these NGOs will lead us out of the valley of despond and into the sunlit uplands of the responsible society, if we can only get rid of the dreaded state.

I think Tim is referring to his chairing this fringe held by the Fabians, Centre for Social Justice and others ... though the loud applause for Kate Green of CPAG for pointing out that Theodore Dalrymple was talking "complete bollocks" did in part reflect the fact that Dalrymple was indeed talking complete bollocks. By contrast, the CSJ are taken seriously including by those of us who disagree with them because they are doing proper research and policy work).

Tim makes some good broader points about all of the party conferences. As the main stage (at both major conferences) is intended as largely for media consumption, perhaps the media could point out that most of it is pap, apart from perhaps four or five major speeches (to be generous), and direct more of its attention to the real politics on the fringe.

Anonymous said...

Of course we should abolish 'lobbyists'.

One of the biggest is the IPCC which is about to destroy the planet.

The EU pays lobbyists to tell it what it wants to here in the guise of 'listening' to the people. I would not be surprised if the Labour Party were doing the same. Indeed even now it is paying PWC to tell it what it wants to here about the Magna take over of GM Europe.

If the govt with its own research and army of civil servants cannot work out what to do then it should not bother trying.

'the radio station went into administration' -- another victim of the all encroaching tentacles of the BBC which was the biggest lobbyist at all the conferences.

Prodicus said...

Matter of interest, what was the 'commercial' rate for a pass for, e.g., a professional lobbyist?

I thought my pass (Party member, first timer) came at very reasonable cost.

I hope the pros paid a damn sight more than I did. They must have for the meeting to clear a 1.5 mill profit!

Cardiff Blogger said...

LBC is the BBC One of talk show presenting, if one of your first major radio shows is on there then I'd be very pleased Iain.

Looking forward to it, I'm sure you'll let us know when it's on ;-)

Danny Webster said...

There certainly were a lot of lobbyists at conference, but dealing with them, and getting back to a utopian party conference is a far harder task.

1. I know of lobbyists who are instructed as part of their role to come to fringe events and ask questions pertanent to their cause.

2. If you are placing a restraint on lobbyists, then an identical restraint has to be placed on the media. As noted, they are not, or at least should not, be there to be involved in policy discussion.

3. Greater regulation of lobbyist access would probably involve placing everything within the secure zone to ensure filtering took place. This would further professionalise the conference.

4. Finally, because it is not a decision making body, healthy discussion does not hurt, so the opposition of left leaning groups to policies being discussed strengthens the debate.

A caveat to this final point - the media report what they see. I.e. although the Bruges Group meeting was packed the reports mostly accurately described it as the fringe of the fringe. Yet in a lobbyist infested event opposition can be found and reported when party members have no such dispute.

And lobbyist conference passes are far too expensive, for a poor charity bod like I.

The Electorate said...

What valuable role do lobbyist play, when politicians should actually be listening to us?

Jon Lishman said...

I don't get it. What is a "lobbyist"?

Martin S said...

Would it be worthwhile looking at starting your own Total Politics Internet radio service, Iain?

Unsworth said...


"However, I am going to be presenting the odd show on LBC. So keep a listen out for those!"

Just how 'odd'?

wv rityrat - what's that?

Anonymous said...

I was at a CPS fringe meeting on new media when discussion turned to BBC issues.

Shamefully Ed Vaizey defended the BBC, promised not to sell off Channel 4 - it is party policy to sell is it not? - and Peter Oborne defended both without recognising his conflict of interest as a programme make for C4.

The chair recognised a senior chap from BBC in the audience, identified him and asked him to comment.

What was he doing there? Preparing to thwart any Tory government moves to contain the behemoth that is the BBC is my guess.

Ed Vaizey - likeable chap, but has gone native.

John said...


I absolutely understand your argument that these fringe meetings should be about party members asking questions. However, in my experience of fringe meetings for all 3 party conferences, the number of regular party delegates who attend these meetings is low. Often it is the lobbyists who fill out these meetings.

John said...

sorry, a further point. Your response of 'banning questions from NGOs' seems pretty over the top. As the chair you could have said, 'are there any questions from party members'.

I think you would actually lose some of value of these contributions. As a 'lobbyist' myself, I dont often ask the questions, but the professionals in the field of work I lobby in who come with me to conference do. You may not agree, but I think that having their viewpoint (alongside party member or local councillor views) adds to the debate.

Anonymous said...

Why sell them tickets/passes then?

It doesn't add up... said...

I'd encourage these quango lobbyists to show their heads: then they can be chopped off after the election more easily.

Anonymous said...

Guido is reporting that Brown has been to Moorefields eye hospital with 2 'slight' retinal tears. Who sent him? Mandy??

Anonymous said...

For any socialist pining after a return for Tony Blair

Anonymous said...

Rather agree with the last Anonymous. If lobbyists are to be told "pay us lots of money, and don't expect any return for it", why should they bother? Sounds like a distinctively trade union view of the world to me.

True Belle said...

Iain, by now you will have door knocked so much that you will be hoarse, and probably on a high or in need of a cream bun!

Before you forget, Tory womens fringe group, what went on and how well subscribed and were they terrifying?

Old Holborn said...


It looks like the story of Brown's health today was released without the consent of Brown.

Interesting, eh?

Tory Taff said...

Here here.

Was nice to see you at the conference Iain.

After meeting so many bloggers at the conference I decided to make my own blog.

So thanks for the inspiration ;)

Quietzapple said...

Womens' Groups obviously too terrifying for comment . . .