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In Defence of APPGs and Lobbying

I find myself once again writing about the Westminster Accounts research. I love it because of what it has exposed. The fact that Eric Pickles has been able to use it to voice a need for better transparency shows how important it is. There are many, many people within the Westminster bubble that will be hating the scrutiny it is providing. That too shows it is a good thing.

However, Sky’s reporting of it is not always helpful. Yesterday they were talking about lobbying and All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) in a report that was largely critical, some of it for good reason, but it probably didn’t provide enough balance.

Firstly about APPGs. They are an important part of Parliament, they are one of the few ways that MPs of different parties work together without all the limitations of whipping and partisan politics within areas where they have a particular interest. They help MPs to develop knowledge about specific subjects and to hone their thinking – and often that knowledge is then used to influence policy. I am sure that, like many, many areas of Westminster, there is abuse of the system – but I wish Sky had provided a bit more balance by talking more about the positive side of APPGs.

In the same report, the same old arguments about lobbying were used – partly because there is funding from lobbyists going into APPGs. That funding is often critical to their functioning, providing research and secretarial support. But, the main point is that when it operates properly lobbying is really important. It is absolutely not about coercion, but about making sure that those that are being lobbied have an understanding of both sides of an argument or situation. Let’s be clear, every single person that writes to their MP to push a particular viewpoint is lobbying - and I wish people would do more of it. However, if constituents are able to contact their Member of Parliament. Why is to wrong for an organisation with a different viewpoint to lobby? The end result of lobbying from both sides of an argument should be that APPG, MPs or Ministers have better understand of a number of perspectives and can follow that up with their own research so they can come to a view based on that complete picture? Good lobbying is about making sure that those being lobbied understand both sides of an argument, it improves Government rather than makes it worse. I want to stress that this is not to say there is not 'bad' lobbying, just that there needs to be an understanding that there is both good and bad.

This blog is about promoting the need for political renewal, Inew politics needs to focus on making sure that we deal with the abuse of lobbying and making sure we get APPGs right. My fear is that the lack of clarity about the role of APPGs and the continuous lack of balanced comment about why organisations lobby will end up driving change that unbalances politics and makes it worse.


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