Tag Archives: Portillo

Were you up for Portillo (on lobbying)?

Last week, on the BBC’s This Week programme, former MP and memorable victim of the electorate’s wrath, Michael Portillo, spoke about the recent so-called lobbying scandal.

Since seeing it live – it’s on at about 11.30pm, putting off most viewers – I’ve watched it on BBC iPlayer many times. In about 90 seconds, he beautifully sums up the churlishness of portraying the recent stings on politicians as a scandal about lobbyists, even though none were involved. This is a point being made by many decent, integrity-driven public affairs practitioners, and one which is roundly ignored by the media.  [If anyone reading can tell me when the last lobbying scandal worthy of national media hysteria that actually did involve lobbyists was, please do let me know.]

But Portillo goes a step further even than that, expounding the crucial role that lobbying plays in politics. He goes so far to say that without lobbying, politics would not function. You can watch it here, 25 minutes into the show:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b02w2wxt/This_Week_06_06_2013/

Or, if you can’t be bothered to click on it, or are simply unwilling to catch a glimpse of Andrew Neil in the presenter’s chair, here’s a transcript of what Portillo said:

“It’s perfectly clear that the things of which these people are accused would be offences. They would be against the rules and they would certainly lead to their expulsion from their parties and possibly suspension from Parliament, and so on. So it’s perfectly clear that the rules are already in place.

Secondly, it’s pretty clear that these people were all caught by a sting; in other words, there wasn’t a real lobbyist involved at all… So actually, creating a register has nothing to do with what’s just happened… If you create the register, you simply allow people to find our more easily, the people that are genuine lobbyists and those that are journalists.

But let me make a fundamental point: all politics rests upon lobbying. The principle rooms in Parliament are called lobbies. And the reason they exist is to allow the public to come into Parliament and visit their Members of Parliament, and they meet them in a place called a lobby, which is the origin of the term, and the interchange between the people who have interests, which need to be considered or even protected by Parliament and the people in Parliament, is fundamental to the democratic process. And since time immemorial, to smooth the interface between the public and the different vest interests, and the Members of Parliament, there have been people who undertake lobbying, and lobbying can be a very respectful thing, and without lobbying, politics wouldn’t function.”

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Never mind the ballots? Count on it being the best bit!

Common sense – perhaps even a sense of fun – won through yesterday, as MPs protected the only guaranteed entertainment of general election. Facing proposals to keep ballot boxes shut overnight and to commence the counting of ballot papers the next morning (it would save money, apparently), our elected representatives opted to amend the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to ensure that the counting of votes will carry on through the night.

In doing so, they have perhaps recognised that at least some sections of a public often generally so apathetic towards politics, find election night quite a thrill. In an earlier blog (Watching the party leaders’ mass-debate), I criticised the idea of television debates. I stick by that but cannot deny that they will add some spice to the campaign. And the same applies to watching the results come in through the night and into the morning, and the forthcoming election could produce some dramatic moments to rival those of 1997.

Anyone devoted enough to stay up and watch the results come in deserves something for their efforts. Being able to say “I saw the Portillo moment” in 1997 was fine reward for those devoted enough to stay up for it. Where better to witness such a moment than at Labour’s official election night party at the Royal Festival Hall on huge screens, surrounded by triumphant young politicos who felt that they were part of a huge transformation of their country? And that’s exactly where I was…

Which compounds the regret and embarrassment I feel at having completely missed the most talked about moment of a historic night, having been taken ‘tired’ in that venue’s facilities. I was, in more ways than one, out for the count. This probably explains why I’m so excited to get the chance to make amends. MPs have given me another chance. No falling asleep this time – I know it sounds nerdy, but democracy can be fun!