The whole Bell Pottinger lobbying scandal was fascinating to watch as it slowly consumed The Independent throughout the week. Clearly, there are certain pernicious forces at work here. It’s difficult not to feel a little uneasy when the British democracy is in such a state that individuals like ‘cantankerous’ Vince Cable require years of expert strategic experience and a big pile of cash to reach.
Of course, it isn’t surprising- everybody knows on some level that this sort of business goes on. The striking thing is how rarely it’s reported on. I’ve written in the past on the great media operator John Rendon, and the upshot of my thoughts was that many of those who do most to change public and political opinion succeed by remaining as invisible as possible.
Rendon managed to monitor and control the fallout from every major US military operation of the past 20 years, and he did so by making sure he personally made as little noise as possible. When he supplied the Kuwati welcome crowd with stars and stripes following its liberation in the first Gulf War, no media commentators celebrated Rendon’s role. Instead, millions saw an inexpressibly powerful image, seemingly created from nowhere.
Lobbyists benefit from a similarly shadowy modus operandi. The point behind legislation change is that it seamlessly and without friction benefits their client’s operation. Even a successful lobby isn’t much good from a PR perspective if everyone can see the wires. Any legislative manipulation washes poorly with the public, regardless of how sinister it actually is.
Lately, however, lobbying is very much starting to clear a space for itself on the news agenda. Across the pond, despite Obama’s much feted initial steps to limit scope for lobbying, the liberal media continues to pick up on the double dealings of his fundraisers. More humorously, headline-grabbers like this marvellous tale have done much to push this most mysterious of government processes into the limelight.
After the work of the Independent this week, we can only assume the same will happen here. Lobbyists are a prime target for a good handbagging by the liberal media, and in many cases not without reason. Many of the accounts bringing in the most cash are also hiding the most corruption. However, I wouldn’t want to see Bell Pottinger and others in their business run into the ground by public opinion- Lobbies are in many cases examples of the cleverest, most beneficial side of corporate PR.
Let’s hope that the public isn’t so invested with the crusading spirit of the Leveson inquiry that this reportage will turn into another circus. Democracy must be upheld, but hopefully without leaving too many casualties along the way.