What is lobbying? Meaning of the term in politics - and why David Cameron lobbied for Greensill Capital

The former PM David Cameron will now face a review into the lobbying he conducted during his time as an employee for Greensill Capital.
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Former Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for lobbying the government on behalf of finance firm Greensill Capital.

His actions have sparked outrage among MPs and the public, prompting calls for stricter rules around lobbying the government.

What is lobbying?

The former PM's actions have sparked calls for stricter rules around lobbying the government.The former PM's actions have sparked calls for stricter rules around lobbying the government.
The former PM's actions have sparked calls for stricter rules around lobbying the government.

Lobbying is essentially another word for persuasion. If someone is “lobbying” the government, they’re trying to get the government to change their policies.

Lobbying can be done by individuals, organisations, charities or companies, and usually involves contacting MPs, ministers and other politicians to persuade them to alter a policy.

This can be done via email, phone or in-person.

Some companies employ professional lobbyists to persuade the government on their behalf, with a number of civil servants and former MPs going on to work as lobbyists.

Does lobbying always work?

Lobbying a politician is no guarantee that their mind will be changed, and doing so can take a long time - hence the employment of professional lobbyists.

People with experience in parliament - e.g. former MPs - may be more successful at lobbying the government, given they know more about Parliament’s inner workings.

Anyone, however, can be a lobbyist - not just governmental figures.

What are the rules around lobbying?

Current UK rules stipulate that former ministers cannot lobby the government until at least two years after leaving their job. They also have to join a register - introduced by former PM David Cameron while he was in office.

As the head of state, the Queen and senior royals are supposed to remain politically neutral. The royals have faced accusations, however, of lobbying the government.

David Cameron claims that he did not break any rules around lobbying as he left Downing Street in 2016 and began working as an adviser for Greensill Capital in 2018.

He did not register as a lobbyist because he was working as an “in house” adviser to Greensill, rather than being employed by a company involved specifically in lobbying.

Why is David Cameron under fire?

Cameron began advising at Greensill Capital, a finance firm, in August 2018, with the founder of the company - Lex Greensill - having formerly worked as an unpaid adviser to Cameron’s government.

As part of his work, Cameron texted Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for Greensill to be included in a Covid-related loan scheme.

He also met current Health Secretary Matt Hancock to discuss a new NHS payment scheme over a “private drink”.

Though the former PM insists he did not break any rules around lobbying, his actions have sparked a wider conversation about cronyism in the current government and the role private companies are playing in influencing government policies.

Critics of the current lobbying rules say that a longer ban on lobbying - currently two years - should be required once a minister leaves office.

Former PM Gordon Brown has criticised the existing system, saying:

"Former prime ministers must never be lobbying for commercial purposes. Current ministers should not be entertaining such lobbying”.

Will David Cameron face consequences?

Following outrage over the revelations, the government has now asked a lawyer to conduct a review into Cameron’s lobbying, with a report issued by the end of June.

The Commons Treasury has also announced plans for a probe, with other committees potentially following their lead.

Cameron’s spokesperson said the former PM would "respond positively" to requests to give evidence "when the terms of reference of each inquiry are clear".

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