Open Up Lobbying Manchester - an activist perspective
Author: Louise Shaw
Published on Jun 27, 2012
The meeting opened with a welcome and introduction of the panel. I was there mainly as my favourite MP, John Leech, Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, was speaking, and I was interested in his views on lobbying. I'd persuaded two friends to come along as well - all on the evening of the Sweden-England group game as well!
John Leech was joined on the panel by Michael Meacher (Labour MP for Oldham West), Spinwatch director Tamasin Cave and Peter Facey, the director of Unlock Democracy. The meeting was chaired by Dr Colin Talbot, the director of Policy@Manchester and blogger on WhitehallWatch.
I was most interested in Tamasin's views as the director of Spinwatch. She had a lot of good insight into the way lobbying was done and how it is achieved. From the MPs’ point of view I thought John Leech's contribution was valid - that lobbying was useful to an MP to help understand an issue. I felt one of the "takeaway messages" from the meeting was that if lobbying could be balanced, i.e. all stakeholders could be represented, then there could be an advantage to it.
But it was clear from all the panel members and some of the questions and points from the audience that a lot of people felt locked out from lobbying. We are all free to speak or write to and meet our MP, and Michael Meacher made the excellent point that more of us should make use of MPs’ surgeries to get in front of MPs and make our point directly. There was some dissatisfaction from the audience about people who've written to their MP and received a reply along party political lines (which I sympathise with as I have experienced that myself). As this is a representative democracy, this is a valid stance for the MP to take.
Tamasin and Peter's concerns were that as lobbying has grown into such a large industry - and with the recent scandals about charging for access - we should be looking to register these meetings and record, at least, what is happening. I think the meeting in general was in favour of this proposal, but wider points about access for the general public, the validity of direct action in these times, and the quality of debate and argument in the UK were made - an awful lot for further meetings to talk about. I hope to see more Unlock Democracy meetings in Manchester and more lively debate.