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From The Times September 25, 2009
Hired guns take aim at target Tory seats
Today's disclosure challenges David Cameron?s promise to usher in a 'new politics'
Dozens of Conservative parliamentary candidates are working in the lobbying industry that seeks to influence their party’s leadership.
An investigation by The Times has found that 28 prospective candidates who have a good chance of becoming Tory MPs are working as lobbyists or public relations consultants on behalf of businesses and other interests. More than a quarter got their jobs after being selected to fight seats.
Several acknowledged that they had set up meetings for clients with Shadow ministers, MPs and officials. More said that they had been asked to provide advice on the party’s direction. A few admitted to having pressed clients’ cases to Tory frontbenchers.
The disclosure challenges David Cameron’s promise to usher in a “new politics”. More than a fifth of his 150 candidates most likely to win seats for the first time will have done public affairs work, although a handful have since left the industry. By contrast, only seven Labour and three Liberal Democrat prospective candidates with realistic hopes of victory have jobs in public affairs or communications.
The influence of paid consultants was thrown into sharp relief this year when President Obama announced that he would block the revolving door through which lobbyists moved in and out of US administrations. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have issued any such edict.
Francis Maude, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said last week that lobbyists could face statutory regulation if they did not volunteer more information on clients and consultants. “Greater openness and transparency is needed to help ensure high standards in public life,” he said.
Last night the party declined to comment on the disclosure that so many candidates were working in the industry or the evidence that lobbying firms were keen to build bridges with a party on the cusp of power.
Senior Conservative sources have told The Times of their unease over how former party advisers have moved into lobbying before the election. Several firms now advertise their Tory credentials; others have been hired to change policies on gambling and home improvement packs.
The British Horseracing Authority said that it chose a lobbying firm partly because it employed a prospective parliamentary candidate. “It’s certainly helpful,” said Will Lambe, the organisation’s head of public affairs.