Simon Parke: Under the influence

26 October 2011

THE story is dead; long live the story.

Two weeks ago, Liam Fox resigned as Defence Secretary. Most people feel that he was a minister who under­stood a brief that one army com­mander claimed takes “at least a year to master”. But his torpedoed political career is no longer the news — although the origin of the torpedoes certainly is. Here is a story about the murky world of the lobby business, which finds it quicker to pay for government decisions rather than vote for them.

One of the most damaging charges against Dr Fox reveals how the game works. The American tycoon Harvey Boulter is the chief executive of a firm seeking a Ministry of Defence con­tract. This is hardly surprising. With a procurement budget of £14 billion, the MoD are good people to know.

It is claimed that Mr Boulter then paid a London-based lobbying company £10,000 to set up a meeting with Dr Fox. The lobbying company turned to Adam Werritty, a man both proud and public about his close links to the Defence Secretary. He agreed to arrange something, and, two days later, a meeting took place in Dubai. Present were Dr Fox, Mr Werrity, and Mr Boulter. There were no other officials present.

At a time when many are losing their jobs, failed or shamed MPs find an ever-open door to a career as a lobbyist. Andrew MacKay, for in­stance, was forced to resign as parlia­mentary aide to David Cameron when he was ordered to repay £31,000 of incorrectly claimed expenses. What might he do next? Simple. As the journalist Andrew Pierce reports: “He promptly joined Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s biggest communication firms, on a six-figure salary. With the Tories in power, Mr MacKay has a direct line to all his old friends now in charge of multi-million-pound budgets.”

Ever since Satan arranged a meeting with Eve, the powerful have always had people whispering in their ears for personal advantage. But this industry is one of the few showing signs of growth. It is now worth £2 billion, and more than 80 lobbying companies now operate in Westminster.

There is no party angle. The Tories received more than £75,000 in donations from lobby companies last year; but, in 2010, Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers, and Patricia Hewitt were suspended from the Labour Party after being filmed agreeing to take £5000 a day to work for a lobby company.

This was never a story abut a minister, but an industry; it was not a tale of poor judgement, but of the art of manipulation. Thomas Merton asked: “Whose silence are you?” It is a good question for those with power, as behind closed doors the whisperers flatter and discreetly pour you another drink.

Solitude: Recovering the power of Alone by Simon Parke is published by White Crow.

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