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Thu 6 May 2021

Political donations from registered lobbying firms – which aim to influence government policy – have clustered around the governing party since 2015

More than £400,000 has been donated by lobbyists to the Conservative Party since a lobbying register was launched in 2015, Byline Times and The Citizens can reveal.

In the past six years, donations totalling £406,955 to the Conservative Party by lobbyists – whose aim is to influence government policy – are listed in the Government’s mandatory register. 

This includes £137,845 from auditing firm KPMG; £12,000 from PR company Hanover Communications; and close to £100,000 from Russia-linked New Century Media.

The total donated to the Conservatives represents 49% of the £830,433 given to political parties by lobbyists since the introduction of the register by the Coalition Government in March 2015. This is in stark contrast to the £113,326, or 14%, that has been donated to the Labour Party.

The Liberal Democrats have made up the remaining donations – £310,000 – which were largely ‘in kind’ donations from consultancies gifting their services to the party.

The proportion of lobbyists donating to the Conservative Party has risen sharply in recent years. Before the register of lobbyists was launched, 34% of all historic political donations from companies on the current list had donated to the Conservatives, with a relatively equal split between the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

In 2010, after being elected Prime Minister, David Cameron warned that political lobbying would be the “next big scandal” in Westminster. After a series of media investigations that seemed to prove his point, the register of lobbyists was created – designed to publicly record the businesses that were engaged in the industry.

However, Cameron perhaps never imagined that he would be at the centre of a lobbying scandal himself. In recent weeks, almost daily reports have revealed new details of his attempts to lobby senior ministers on behalf of Greensill Capital, a private finance company. Cameron hired the firm’s owner Lex Greensill to work as a senior advisor in Downing Street from 2012 to 2015 – and then reversed the roles after leaving Government, with Cameron first advising Greensill in 2018.

Several inquiries have been launched into the affair, though questions have initially been asked about why Cameron’s own lobbying reforms did not put a stop to the scandal. The lobbying register has, in particular, been criticised as it only logs companies and self-employed consultants, rather than individuals working for firms. Cameron’s name did not appear in the register, for example, because he was technically a Greensill employee.

“The whole system doesn’t work, everyone knows it doesn’t work, everyone’s known for years it doesn’t work,” Steve Goodrich, senior research manager at Transparency International UK, told Politico. “David Cameron knew it didn’t work, which is exactly why his actions didn’t turn up anywhere on any official disclosure.”

Cameron was also not obliged to seek advice from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) – a watchdog designed to police the jobs that ex-ministers and senior officials take after they have left office. ACOBA’s remit only covers the two years after an individual has left their Government role. Cameron resigned as Prime Minister in 2016, meaning that he could pursue lobbying jobs from 2018 onwards without consulting the watchdog.

Cameron has said that he abided by the rules and will answer the questions of the various inquiries looking into the affair.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, one of the ministers lobbied by Cameron on behalf of Greensill, has not appeared in television studios or Parliament since the story broke. Plenty of high-ranking individuals need to explain their role in this scandal – not just the former Prime Minister.

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