Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Lobbying or campaigning? YouGov poll results.

Today we publish a YouGov poll which ACEVO commissioned recently. The poll suggests that the Lobbying Bill should regulate lobbyists not charities.

As the Lobbying Bill is debated in the Commons today, the poll reveals the public have far lower trust in lobbyists, to influence Government for the benefit of society, than other sectors. Charities are the best-trusted sector.

The public trusts charities to do this – and they don’t trust lobbyists. So, it’s important that the Lobbying Bill takes the right steps to restore public faith in politics. It should target corporate lobbyists, rather than already-regulated charities who the law obliges to act for public benefit.

When asked “To what extent, if at all, do you trust the following organisations to use this influence over government policy for the benefit of society?”, a mere 8% favoured lobbying consultants, with 71% disagreeing and 20% having no opinion.

By contrast, 49% said they trusted charities to do so, with 33% against and 19% unsure.

The poll shows much higher confidence in charities to influence than in other sectors. The results were as follows:

       For trade unions: 28% trust, 55% do not trust, 17% don’t know
       Private Companies: 16% trust, 66% do not trust, 18% don’t know
       Think Tanks: 21% trust, 58% do not trust, 22% don’t know

The survey also shows that the public believe lobbyists, trade unions and the private sector wield much more influence over the government than charities. When people were asked ‘How much influence, if any, do you think the following organisations have over government policy?’ the results were:

       Lobbying Consultants: 63% fair amount of influence, 18% no influence, 19% don’t know
       Charities: 19% fair amount of influence, 66% no influence, 15% don’t know
       Trade Unions: 51% fair amount of influence, 35% no influence, 14% don’t know
       Private companies: 68% fair amount of influence, 18% no influence, 14% don’t know
       Think Tanks: 53% fair amount of influence, 29% no influence, 19% don’t know

These results show that the public recognise charities’ essential role in questioning government policies and speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable people in society. There is a fundamental difference between charities campaigning to improve government policy for public benefit, and lobbyists advancing their paying clients.

Last week I wrote to Andrew Lansley MP - the Leader of the Commons - to express concern that this lobbying bill will restrict charities’ ability to advocate and campaign on behalf of those they represent during election campaigns, and therefore stifle good policy and law making.

This Bill needs to tackle the real problem - lobbying - and shouldn't restrict legitimate charity campaigning which strengthens democracy not undermines it. It does little to limit lobbyists and instead curtails the involvement of the third sector in advocacy and campaigning. This threatens to limit political discussions and further marginalise society’s most under-represented groups, as well as reducing the quality of law-making. The third sector draws on unparalleled expertise and close connections to beneficiary groups when it participates in public policy debates. It is an invaluable resource for both policy-makers and the public.

I'm hopeful that common sense will prevail; if not in the House of Commons, it will in the Lords I'm sure. But we must get this Bill changed. So let's hope the government are listening; to the legal advice, to the Electoral Commission and now to the public. Tackle the real problem; regulate lobbying. Don't curb charities.

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