18 July 2013

Another fine distinction

Is it possible to discuss a policy proposal with a government minister without lobbying them?  David Cameron appears to think so.  The Guardian reports:
David Cameron faced intense questions throughout the day over Crosby's alleged involvement in the government's decision to abandon plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes.
Crosby's firm, Crosby Textor, works for the tobacco giant Philip Morris Ltd, which lobbied the Department of Health to abandon the plans.
Miliband accused the prime minister of "disgraceful" behaviour after Cameron declined to give a direct answer in the Commons when he was asked whether he had ever had a conversation with Crosby about plain cigarette packaging. The prime minister told Miliband: "I'll answer the question. He [Crosby] has never lobbied me on anything."
The obvious problem with such an approach becomes apparent when considering the proposal for a register of lobbyists (as announced yesterday).  For example, you might ask a lobbying organisation why it is not shown on the register, only to receive the answer that the organisation does not engage in lobbying; it merely has occasional conversations with ministers.  Which rather undercuts the whole idea of a register ...

Simon Hoggart ridicules the distinction:
I suppose lobbying might be: "Prime Minister, please don't introduce plain packaging! There are executives who might have to sell their third homes and racehorses!"
Chatting: "Mmm, before we discuss separate matters, can I remind you of the smooth yet manly taste of these Marlboro cigarettes? And let's not lose the iconic label, showing a beefy chap in chaps!"


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