Criticism of Parliamentary Lobbying from 1923

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I found this snippet attacking political lobbying in America and France in Herman Finer’s Representative Government and a Parliament of Industry. A Study of the German Federal Economic Council (Westminster, Fabian Society and George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1923).

Nor is the process of “lobbying,” i.e. directly soliciting the support of members of legislature for or against a measure, known only in the U.S. Congress or in the French Chamber of Deputies. it is the irruption of the interest person into the very chamber of council; it should be moderated by other groups with a locus standi and by the community. The process is legitimate; but the proceedings should be systematic, public and open, and subject the possessors of uncorrupt wishes and desires for expression to the humiliation of a suspicious private solicitation.

(pp. 8-9).

This also connects to a footnote, 1, quoting Bryce’s American Commonwealth (1918) p. 691, on ‘The Lobby’. This runs

‘The Lobby’ is the name given in America to persons, not being members of the legislature, who undertake to influence its members, and thereby to secure the passing of bills… The name, therefore, does not necessarily impute any improper motive or conduct though it is commonly used in what Bentham calls a dyslogistic sense… The causes which have produced lobbying are easily explained. Every legislative body has wide powers of affecting the interests and fortunes of private individuals, both for good and for evil… When such bills (public and private) are before a legislature, the promoters and opponents naturally seek to represent their respective views, and to enforce them upon the members with whom the decision rests. So far, there is nothing wrong, for advocacy of this kind is needed in order to bring the facts fairly before the legislature.’ etc. etc. P. 694: “In the United States,’ says an experienced publicist, whose opinion I have inquired, ‘though lobbying is perfectly legitimate in theory, yet the secrecy and want of personal responsibility, the confusion and want of system in the committees, make it rapidly degenerate into a process of intrigue, and fall into the hands of the worst men. It is so disagreeable and humiliating and these soon throw away all scruples. The most dangerous men are ex-members who know how things are to be managed.'” (p. 9, my emphasis.)

The Federal Economic Council was a corporatist body set up by the German government which brought together representatives from German business and the trade unions to help manage the economy and regulate industrial relations and working conditions. It’s interesting that it, and a similar body in Italy, were set up before Mussolini’s Fascists had entered the Italian parliament and set up the corporate state there. Finer was impressed with the council, which he believed was necessary because the conventional parliamentary system was inadequate to deal with the problems of industry and the economy. Winston Churchill also apparently spoke in favour of establishing a similar council in Britain in 1930. I think he believed it was necessary to deal with the massive recession caused by the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

The Tories have extensive connections to lobbying groups, and I remember how the corruption associated with them became so notorious a decade or so ago that Dodgy Dave Cameron decided to introduce a bill regulating them. This was supposed to make the process more open and transparent. Of course it did no such thing. It used a mass of convoluted verbiage to make it more difficult for charities, trade unions and small groups to lobby parliament, and much easier for big business. Which is nothing less than what you’d expect from the Tories.

I made similar arguments in my self-published book, For A Worker’s Chamber, to argue that, as parliament is dominated by millionaire businessmen and the representatives of big business, there needs to be a separate parliamentary chamber which represents only working people, elected by working people, and not management or the owners of industry.

I intend to send a copy off to the Labour party, who have asked their members for suggestions on policy. I strongly they believe they should first start with is representing working people, rather than the middle classes and business, as Tony Blair did and Keir Starmer seems to want. Without that, I think you really do need such a chamber to restore balance and represent working people’s own interests. But I can’t see any of the parties agreeing to it in the present right-wing political climate.