Cameron confronted with own 2010 warning that lobbying was looming 'scandal'

David Cameron was confronted with his own warning that lobbying was the “next big scandal waiting to happen” – during a grilling about his own lobbying of ministers.

During his appearance at the Treasury Committee to answer questions about his cosy chats with ministers asking for government help on behalf of failed financier Greensill Capital, the former PM stopped short of apologising for his behaviour.

But he accepted that in future he would contact the government in a single letter or email, rather than sending more than 50 text messages and making phone calls to various officials and ministers – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh quoted a speech he made in 2010, warning about the “far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

Labour's Siobhain McDonagh
Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh

When asked if he saw the irony of the speech and the subsequent actions on behalf of Greensill, he cited the 2014 Lobbying Act and its aim of greater transparency.

“When I made those remarks there had just been, I think, a lobbying scandal involving a firm that was approached by a journalist, pretending to be from the government of Uzbekistan.

“The lobbying firm in question said ‘we can get you into ministers, we can get you to see people and no-one needs to know who you are lobbying on behalf of’.

“So, the change that the Lobbying Act brought in – I know it’s criticised now but that changed the Lobbying Act … to make sure that multi-client lobbyists had to register who their clients were.”

Ex-PM David Cameron
Ex-PM David Cameron

Mr Cameron described it as an “important change”, adding: “You got two very valuable tools to make sure we can see who is lobbying whom and on whose behalf.

“With my interactions from Greensill to the Government, I absolutely knew that if the meetings I wanted to take place that did take place, they would be properly reported on, and everyone would know about them, and that is absolutely right.”

David Cameron defended approaching ministers and senior Government officials by text as opposed to email in the context of the pandemic, but acknowledged this was a “lesson” from the controversy.

“It was a time of extraordinary crisis and so it was a time when I think it was appropriate to use phone and text over email and letter,” the former prime minister told the Commons Treasury Committee.

“I think, in future, one of the lessons I take away is prime ministers should only ever use letter or email and should restrict themselves far more.”


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