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Bilderberg and the lobbying register: time to act

June 2, 2013

     :: PRESS RELEASE ::


As the lobbying scandal deepens, there are calls to implement a register of lobbyists. Meanwhile, Watford is in lockdown as the world’s biggest lobbying event – the Bilderberg conference – is set to begin. Politicians, corporate CEOs and bank bosses locked away for a private 3-day policy summit. So will Bilderberg be the next big lobbying scandal?

Transparency and trust

“The latest, depressing sleaze revelations are only going to increase public cynicism about politics and parliament.”
    James Forsyth, Spectator, 2/6/13

Public trust in politicians has been shaken again by the recent lobbying scandal. As Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says: “clearly there are instances where access is abused – further undermining the already weak public trust in our institutions…” So how can we restore this trust? “Greater transparency is a key part of the antidote”, suggests Clegg. EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes agrees: “One way to create trust is by increasing transparency in government.” The more opaque and hidden away the operations of government, the less the public feel fairly and reasonably represented.

But with senior British politicians set to attend the notoriously untransparent Bilderberg conference in Watford (June 6-9), it seems possible that Bilderberg itself will become the next big lobbying scandal. To avoid Bilderberg turning into ‘Bildergate’, the politicians who attend must open up the proceedings to press and public scrutiny. As Neelie Kroes (who has attended the Bilderberg conference for the last 8 years and never spoken about it) says:

“Citizens will be more confident if they can verify that the people they have elected inform them about what they do and how they do it.”

Register of lobbyists

Nick Clegg has led the calls for “greater transparency” in lobbying, and been vocal in his backing for a register of lobbyists: “let me be clear: it will happen. The detail is being looked at thoroughly.” And Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has backed plans for a register: “we think it’s necessary. But there is work going on on its scope.”

So how might a register of lobbyists work? A few weeks ago, before the Mercer scandal broke, the Association of Professional Political Consultants said: “any statutory lobbying register must be universal in terms of the lobbyists it covers”. The scope has to be universal:

“Any new system of statutory lobbying registration will only work properly if the public has confidence in a system that provides transparency of all lobbying interactions, not just a select few.”

The public needs to have confidence that there aren’t areas of lobbying off-limits to the register.

Bilderberg conference

The most powerful corporate and high-finance lobby group, and the least transparent, is the Bilderberg Group. It would be top of any universal register of lobbying organizations. At the group’s annual conference, politicians and senior policymakers are locked away, for three days, with corporate CEOs, bank bosses, media moguls and billionaire venture capitalists. In absolute privacy, and with zero press oversight. The deepest, darkest corner of big business lobbying, and the ultimate challenge to the “radical transparency agenda” of the coalition government, and to Nick Clegg’s call for lobbying to be conducted with “greater transparency”.

As the massive privacy operation of Bilderberg gets underway, there is an urgent need for an increase in transparency, accountability and trust in politics. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron said: “In time, I want our government to be one of the most open and transparent in the world.” If we don’t want Bilderberg to turn into the next big lobbying scandal, that time has to be now.