Lobbying and party funding reform are both vital and urgent – so why aren’t the Lib Dems saying so?

If there is one thing the Liberal Democrats are not it is a party of vested interests: not beholden to trade unions, to professional lobbyists or to big business. Free to advocate policies that work and are right for the country, not ones that please the people who pay parties to adopt them.

It’s one of the many reasons I’m a member of the party – and it’s a motive I share with our leader.

Among many other things, the murky practices that did it for Liam Fox demonstrate once again with perfect clarity just how necessary reform of both lobbying and party funding are.

The coalition is consulting on what form a new register of lobbyists should take. And Nick Clegg has spoken while in government about the urgent need to reform party funding.

So why aren’t we as a party making use of the situations which demonstrate the need for these policies?

Both Labour and the Tories have no desire to see the status quo changed – it serves them perfectly well (if they arrange things in a way that are sufficiently secretive and in-transparent – Fox’s problem was that he didn’t cover his tracks well enough).

So if we are to get our coalition partners or Labour to back reform, we have to get the public on our side first. Most of the public would probably agree with limiting donations and tightening the rules about lobbying; the problem is that it is not high enough on their list of priorities.

But it should be. Government freed from vested interests is government that works for the whole of the country rather than those with the deepest pockets and superior contacts.

The interests of defence contractors or trade unions are not necessarily the same as the interests of the public as a whole, but as long as these people maintain control of the flow of cash into Tory and Labour HQs, how can we really be sure whose interests are being represented?

So many ‘scandals’ in British politics can be explained with reference either to party funding or lobbying that, when they come along, we have to show the public how they are not just of interest to Westminster obsessives but to ‘ordinary’ voters.

During the expenses scandal, the Liberal Democrats (eventually) made great use of the situation to show the need for wholesale political reform. We must do the same when it comes to what is ultimately a much more pressing political issue: the corruption of our politics by the rich, savvy and powerful.

3 responses to “Lobbying and party funding reform are both vital and urgent – so why aren’t the Lib Dems saying so?

  1. Nick, you know I share your view about the Lib Dems not being a party of interests. We could say that comfortably from opposition, as no interest bothered with the Lib Dems – they made their connections with Labour and the Conservatives.
    The question I would like to develop is how we Lib Dems internally regulate the conduct of our ministers so that we demonstrate that we’re different. In other words, a Liam Fox could never be a Lib Dem.

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  3. Marton Wiltshire

    Excellent points. It would also play into the narrative of the 99% and maybe give a more substantive target for demands. Adding of course Vince’s mansion tax a more robbust approach to the banks… Currently the 99% sees the political system as part of the problem and they are right. We shouldn’t join them for that reason but if we are proposing concrete policies that may lead toward a system they could respect we could subtlely harness the popular support needed to achieve something more than the pathetic fluff Tories and Labour use as excuses to do nothing.