In Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013 90 per cent of respondents believed that the UK Government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest.This is perhaps a surprising statistic considering the UK parliament’s historically high international reputation, and Britain’s comparably good position in rankings such as the Corruption Perceptions Index.
However, in recent years politics in the UK has been plagued by corruption scandals and public trust in politicians is plunging. There have been too many scandals, often because of a lack of transparency and accountability. These scandals have exposed serious fault lines in the UK political system, and have raised particular concerns over the following:
- The regime for parliamentary expenses
- Lobbying of politicians by those who can apparently buy access that influences legislation spending priorities or policy decisions;
- The revolving door between government and resources-resources-business;
- Political party funding; and
- Oversight regimes
But what’s the problem with lobbying? In essence it is an important part of a functioning democracy. The problem lies when it happens behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. It can lead politicians in office to steer away from good government. Their decisions can benefit those who fund them. The public interest comes second. Special interests, backed by money, may sway decision-making and undermine democracy.
Opaque lobbying practices backed up by extensive funds at the disposal of interest groups can lead to undue, unfair influence in policies – creating risks for political corruption and undermining public trust in decision-making institutions. We can attribute this factor, in part, to the crisis of confidence in politics we have seen unravel in the UK in recent years, resulting in apathy and low voter turnouts.
TI-UK believes regulation needs to address both those who seek to influence inappropriately and those who are being lobbied. Money should not to be a distorting factor in forming policy or gaining access to decision makers. Lobbying on any particular issue or decision should be visible and have an audit trail. Such information should be presented in a manner that is accessible and comparable for the public, media and civil society to scrutinise.
A report on UK corruption by TI-UK revealed that the British public perceive political parties to be the most corrupt sector in the UK and parliament to be the third most corrupt. There is a danger that the public will cease to regard decisions made by government and parliament as legitimate and fair. This represents a serious threat to British democracy and ultimately, to the rule of law.
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Lifting the lid on lobbying
We’re part of a new project – “Lifting the Lid on Lobbying: Taking Secrecy out of Politics in Europe” – which is investigating the legal gaps and the lack of transparency in lobbying practices in 17 European countries and the EU in Brussels with national and regional research reports to be released alongside calls for lobby regulation reforms. In the UK, we are working in collaboration with Dr Liz David-Barrett of the Centre for the Study of Corruption and Transparency, Kellogg College, University of Oxford.
Public confidence in how policies are being formulated, and in whose interest, has been negatively affected by repeated incidences of opaque lobbying practices. In light of the on-going financial crisis in Europe, the financial sector is of particular concern for European citizens and decision makers. This project aims at achieving a leap towards greater transparency and accountability related to lobbying in Europe.
The Lifting the Lid on Lobbying project has received funding from the EU from the CIPS/ISEC Programmes, DG Home Affairs. Responsibility of the content lies with TI-UK and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.