Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Quiet Word

A very timely book review from our good friend Roger Backhouse.

A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain
by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell
Bodley Head . £20 2014

One of David Cameron’s now forgotten warnings was to predict a future scandal concerning lobbyists. As this book shows, his warning was correct but lobbying, largely concealed from public view, goes on to shape policies to our detriment.
The authors describe a shadowy world of well connected lobbyists, many former politicians, with equally shadowy clients including pharmaceutical firms, sugar producers, oil companies, Google, and brutal governments often represented by Tony Blair. They influence civil servants, Ministers and the media in ways that deny democracy, cost us dear and promote policies bad for our health or our planet.
Lobbyists tactics include fake “consultations”, setting up supposedly grassroots organisations, creating allegedly neutral think tanks and research bodies or the wonderfully named “astroturfing” creating the impression of genuine public opinion.
A favourite tactic is spreading doubts about scientific discovery. For years tobacco lobbyists denied any proven link between smoking and lung cancer. How many died as a result of their pressure on governments? Oil companies now do the same about global warming and sugar producers fight plans to reduce sugar intake.
Many politicians - in all three major parties - have links to lobbying companies. They form a close knit group with lobbyists, a denial of true democracy.
It isn’t only rancid old lefties who should be concerned. As the authors point out lobbying works to enhance the power of established companies and maintain monopoly power. In effect it denies the working of a truly free market - which does not stop at least one supposedly “free market” think tank engaging in some fierce lobbying of its own.
Overall a deeply scary picture and Government measures did not make lobbying more open whatever David Cameron claimed. But read this book and at least you’ll recognise lobbying at work. It is highly recommended.
Roger Backhouse
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It is timely because last Sunday an ex-Cabinet Minister wrote in the Telegraph about how proud he is to have used his term in office to stand up to the green lobby whom he calls the “Green Blob”. None other than Owen Paterson MP, a climate change denialist who thinks there is a global conspiracy contrived by 97% of the world’s scientists to create an imaginary environmental crisis which has been exposed by a small plucky band of billionaires (himself included) and oil companies. He has similarly stood up to those who have pointed out that the badger cull didn’t work and the scientific evidence that predicted it wouldn’t work, preferring instead to listen to the financial interests of big Agriculture and those wealthy people who enjoy shooting wild animals. He points out that the “Green Blob” is intent on destroying the economy of our countryside but refuses to hold his breath while counting his money.
So that’s all right then. We can all relax in the knowledge that we are being protected from the evils of lobbying and look forward to Fracking in our back gardens, the employment opportunities that new technology will provide to decontaminate our water supplies and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which of course is being negotiated transparently and impartially reported in the establishment press so we all know what’s going on and the Multi-National Corporations have had no influence at all on the proposals therein that will allow them to sue our Government if it passes laws that protect the vulnerable but inhibit their ability to increase profits.
And as you would expect, among the leading opponents of TTIP are those named and shamed by Mr Paterson for "profiting handsomely" at the expense of the countryside - the not-for-profit Greenpeace and the only mainstream UK political party who do not accept corporate donations.

Further Reading:
Greenpeace reply to Owen Paterson (The lie and no apology)
New Environment Agency chairman has fracking links

Other Reviews:
Mark Leftly - The Independent

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