Lord Bell and why lobbyists really aren’t to blame
I tend not to take much interest in paid lobbyists, regarding them as verminous scum. Still, when people I talk to on stalls mention something, I take an interest and it just so happened yesterday that one ex-Lib Dem (left because of leadership treason) brought up the subject of Lord Bell’s “attack” on lobbyists.
Apparently the ex-owner of Bell Pottinger made a speech the other day in which he admitted that they were “a lightning rod for mistrust”. It says something about the type of wet drips who join the Lib-Dems that this guy thought Lord Bell was making an attack on his own profession; far from it. He was in full throated defence.
“The fact remains that, taking on a client good or bad, it is our reputation at stake,” says Bell, and “everybody has the right to representation”. Defending Bell Pottinger’s PR work for the repressive dictatorship of Belarus, Bell says that “Good PR needs substance”, intimating that his firm only held up real good things that were happening there.
Let’s deconstruct this a bit. Not everybody has the right to representation; only those who can pay have the right to representation. Hence it’s the dictatorship of Belarus and not its starved, oppressed people who hired Bell Pottinger. Likewise, it’s capitalist firms and not their workers who hire PR firms, political “leaders” and not activists and so on.
The essence of paid political lobbying is the elevation of those who exist at points where money is concentrated – i.e. the already institutionally powerful and wealthy. So the whole edifice is biased from the beginning. More than that, whilst lobbyists don’t have to lie, the nature of their job is to distort the truth, holding up the good things and explaining away the bad things. Amusingly, Lord Bell actually gets indignant over Belarus, “No attempt was made to understand what we were doing”. Quite the opposite; surely the problem was that everyone knew precisely what Bell Pottinger were doing?
Asked why he thought he was being attacked, Lord Bell’s giant ego moved to obscure the sunlight;
I have absolutely no idea. I think I’m absolutely lovely. But some people don’t think I am, so they attack me. The answer is because I’m at the top of the tree. I say that immodestly, I’m somewhere near the top of the tree and I have been for some time. Tall poppy syndrome applies to our industry the same as everything else. What’s the point of attacking somebody nobody’s ever heard of? It’s much more fun to attack me, or the Saatchi brothers, or Matthew Freud, or Max Clifford. Attack somebody who’s visible.
Attacking somebody who’s visible…and supports murderous dictatorships, oppressive Thatcherite governments and the like, perhaps?
There’s a nugget in all of this which shows that paid lobbying is not to blame for the ills of our political system. There are parallels which exist between people like Lord Bell (i.e. smug rich arseholes) and, say, David Cameron. They occupy a similar ideological universe.
Bell seems to suggest a democracy of the marketplace with his “everyone has the right to representation” spiel. This is hardly different to the Tory equation of corporate donations to their party with union donations to the Labour Party.
Both stories are about attempts to buy power by interest groups. Both treat potential funders as individuals, the better to make all potential funders look like equals and obscure the very real differences in wealth, power and numbers.
The Bell/Cameron model favours small cliques who can more easily use wealth and power over mass organisations of millions (e.g. the people of Belarus or the 7 million workers in unions). Implying any equivalence is ridiculous. Numerous figures in the Labour heirarchy are no strangers to this model, nor are the Lib-Dems. And this is my point. It is natural for them to think this way, to favour the wealthy and still see some balance in their views.
It doesn’t require lobbying. It simply requires that we workers lie down and take it, over and over and over again.