Lobby Britain

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Do you have your own weapons company? Or perhaps you're an oil tycoon? Do you want to know how to get government to do what you want? Well, if so, this is the film for you. In this program we'll show you how to buy influence in Westminster in just a few easy steps. The first step is to amass an army of lobbyists. There are thousands of corporate lobbyists operating in Westminster, every single day. And all around parliament, there are hundreds of lobbying firms. Many of them conceal the identity of their clients so you can push your agenda, and overwhelm the country's democratic structures, on the sly.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Do you have your own weapons company? Or perhaps you're an oil tycoon? Do you want to know how to get government to do what you want? Well, if so, this is the film for you. In this programm we'll show you how to buy influence in Westminster in just 6 easy steps. Step 1. Amass an army of lobbyists.

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “Lobbying is the organized attempt by interests to try to influence policy or legislation. And it's an attempt by interests to go direct to those agencies, to try to get a regulation changed or a new law enacted. Rather than go through the normal democratic process i.e. through the election process so it's a way of circumventing democracy really in essence.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Lindsey German, National Convenor: “We're told we live in a democracy, but the people who vote for the MPs, the ordinary people of Britain, have no notion, most of them, that this goes on. They would be absolutely shocked if they went to parliament and saw the amount of lobbying that goes on.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Paul Flynn, MP, Labour Party: “It's whole purpose is parasitic. They're living off the processes of democracy. And their whole role is to gain further advantages to those who are already advantaged; the privileged, the wealthy, the well-heeled, the powerful, are the ones who gain, generally, from lobbying.”

Narration: There are thousands of corporate lobbyists operating in Westminster, every single day. And all around parliament there are hundreds of lobbying firms. Many of them conceal the identity of their clients so you can push your agenda, and overwhelm the country's democratic structures, on the sly.

SOUNDBITE [English], Lindsey German, National Convenor: “if you go to one of the main party conferences, you will see room after room of meeting rooms which are sponsored and subsidized by a whole number of lobbying firms and companies, which essentially provide very nice amounts of food and drink and this kind of thing, with the aim of promoting the interests of their company, not with the interest of promoting objective debate and honest accounting.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Paul Flynn, MP, Labour Party: “It's very much about subterfuge, about getting a word here, a little bit of pressure there, a bit of influence there, a promise. And in that way decisions are nudged into existence.”

Narration: The Ministry of Defense has got a very cozy relationship with the arms trade. In 2007, it revealed that it had dealt out 38 security passes to BAE systems employees. One of the lucky recipients was the company's chief lobbyist, Julian Scopes, who's pass gave him access to the top levels of the ministry allowing him to lobby ministers and senior officials.

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “Lobbyists whether they're in consultancies or working for the company themselves are trying to populate the information environment round about decision makers so that almost everything that they hear, or the bulk of what they hear is conducive to the corporations. There are a whole range round this building of think tanks, which are set up as sort of independent quasi independent organizations who just do some thinking and come up with good policy ideas. Actually they're all almost entirely funded by corporations and by very rich individuals. And that's another mechanism for the lobbyists to surround the minister, so if the minister hears from the chief executive of a company, and hears from a lobbyist at a social event and hears from a think tank all the same thing - it might all come from the same corporation - the minister might begin to think that this is a general belief held in the population and of course usually it's very far from that.”

Narration: Step 2, book a meeting. once your lobbyists introduce you to the top decision makers, drop into the ministry for a chat with top officials, and tell them what's on your mind.

SOUNDBITE [English], Gregg Muttitt, Author: “The oil companies don't need to lobby the British government, they might have a few meetings at the senior vice president level or at the chief executive level together with either ministers of senior civil servants. These are kind of relatively informal chats where they just say what they want and the government says yes of course that's what we're thinking too. If we think back to the time of the Iraq war and the months leading up to it, the British government was completely insistent that it wasn't thinking about oil at all in Iraq.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Gregg Muttitt, Author:Tony Blair described it as an absurd conspiracy theory that oil was featuring in their thinking or their calculations. I got the minutes of five meetings that took place between BP and shell, and the British government, in the months leading up to the war so from late to 2002 to early 2003. And what they indicate is a real hunger on the part of the oil companies one of the minutes starts with 'Iraq is the' underlined 'big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there'. So you get this real hunger from the oil companies and the British government including the trade minister are saying 'we'll help you out, we'll make sure you get your oil contracts, we'll make sure you're the ones running the oil fields once the war's out of the way'.”

Narration: Step three. Invest in parliament. There are laws in Britain which are supposed to stop the oil industry and the arms industry from buying politicians, but you can get around these in ways which are indirect, and can't be seen.

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “In the House of Commons there's a whole series of all party discussion groups which are funded indirectly by the arms companies because they're not supposed to fund them through lobbyists unless they disclose that. So what happens is that they, some of the arms firms have set up an organisation called the air league - which is a sort of charitable company - which funds the all party group which discusses these matters in parliament.”

Narration: Last year the Air League took money from Boeing, Rolls Royce, and BAE Systems.

SOUNDBITE [English], Lindsey German, National Convenor: “Once you start getting money from big business, then you have to assume that there is an element in which, you are going to whether tacitly or overtly, you are going to come up with the kind of things that they want you to come up, or you won’t investigate areas which they might regard as wrong to investigate.”

Narration: And all party groups are just the tip of the ice berg. Inside parliament there are lots of other military discussion groups and committees which will help you keep the politicians in your pocket.

SOUNDBITE [English], Douglas Carswell, MP, Conservative Party: “I’ve been very concerned for some time on the way the defense budget seems to be spent not so much in the interests of the armed forces, but in the interests of a few protectionist defense companies.”

Narration: Douglas Carswell is a British MP. Soon after entering parliament he visited Afghanistan, to get some first hand knowledge of British troops in action. And to get familiar with the military equipment they use. His trip was paid for by an organisation called the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Back in the UK Douglas did some digging and discovered that the scheme did have some interesting donors.

SOUNDBITE [English], Douglas Carswell, MP, Conservative Party: “I believe it did receive a large slice of funding at some point from a number of contractors.”

Narration: And it still does, BAE systems, Rolls Royce, and Agusta Westland invest money in the scheme every year. It's a shrewd investment. Agusta Westland has a contract to supply the UK with helicopters which cost £14 million each. But Carswell became concerned that this deal had been made in strange circumstance. Back in the UK, he raised his concerns in Parliament

SOUNDBITE [English], Douglas Carswell, MP, Conservative Party: “Defence procurement I believe is run in the interest of the big contractors, not our armed forces. A million pound contract was awarded for a helicopter which cost almost 50% more than the alternatives and which would not be ready until at least 2012. At least 2012, that's a long time to wait if you're on a minefield in southern Afghanistan. Our armed forces pay a blood price for the shortage of helicopters.”

Narration: For the schemes paymasters, Douglas Carswell was raising the wrong sorts of questions.

SOUNDBITE [English], Douglas Carswell, MP, Conservative Party: “I can't help but noticing that i was prematurely retired from the scheme.”

Narration: He who pays the piper, calls the tunes. But money can only get you so far. Step 4 - get friendly with the Prime Minister.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Lindsey German, National Convenor: “The whole of the births government, the Ministry of Defence, the parliamentary system and the lobbying system in parliament all work very very closely with the arms industry. For example, if you look at the recent trip by David Cameron to Saudi Arabia and the middle east in general, this was a totally integrated business and government trip.”

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “British Aerospace is a fantastically important company in terms of arms contracts. So the government acts as it's agents overseas. And that's why when the government ministers went out to Egypt they were out there with arms people haha pretending that they weren't and that they were supporting the protests in Tahir Square.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International: “David Cameron recently toured the Middle East and was the first world leader to visit the Egypt since the revolution. He said he was out there to offer Britain’s help in creating the building blocks of democracy in the region. But while he was out there he was accused of using his arab democracy tour as a cover for arms sales. He was travelling with arms dealers from no fewer than 8 companies. The oil men were also on the tour. So before the next trade delegation, book yourself a seat on the prime ministers plane.”

Narration: Step 5 - offer advice. A great way to peddle influence in the civil service is to plug your company into the key advisory bodies in Whitehall. The Defence Scientic Advisory Council is a good place to start. It's a forum where academics and arms industry representatives sit down and advice policy makers on defence matters. And the Defence Suppliers Forum is a place were and corporate big wigs sit down with ministers and civil servants to iron out military-industrial policy.

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “Corporations try to manage every sphere of society. Now that sounds like a kind of grandiose claim right? But they have the idea that they need to manage the political environment, they need to manage th regulatory environment, they need to manage also the environment in which their products are talked about and bought.”

Narration: All these committees, task forces, and working groups are vehicles for you to shape government policy. So get on board this institutionalized lobbying system and make sure you're the one calling the shots.

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “In every sphere, that might impinge in the end on policy, the corporations are trying to dominate that in order that it's difficult for policy makers to reject what they want.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Lindsey German, National Convenor: “When you've got arms company's, when you've got a big military, and when you’ve got a powerful Ministry of Defence, believe me, that, whatever these people are a powerful impetus towards war because this is their rational, this is what they are there for. And if you are producing weapons, you do want to see how they work out in practice . Now that doesn't mean to say you are starting wars every week or that you're wanting wars to happen all the time, but there is a huge impulse with all those things in existence, to create wars.”

Narration: Step 6: get familiar with a new term - the revolving door.

SOUNDBITE [English], Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International: “We use the term to refer to the movement of senior officials between government and the private sector. And it's a two way process, you have people from government to the private sector and from the private sector to the government.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Paul Flynn, MP, Labour Party: “We're seeing people who's decision when they were ministers, top civil servants, generals, seem to be very odd, sometimes eccentric decisions, but when they retire, they walk straight into a lobbying job. Their position in their office is often corrupted because they know that if they take a decision to chose a contract from firm A, B, or C. If they know that company B is going to offer them a hacienda in Spain, a retirement job, their decisions, their judgment in office is often influenced by their future job prospect.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English], Paul Flynn, MP, Labour Party:Many of the contracts that governments award involve billions of pounds and the air carrier decision was a 5 billion pound decision and that was taken in very strange circumstances. The present government are complaining because they say it will cost to cancel the contract than to continue with it. So we have to put ourselves in the extraordinary position where we're going to have aircraft carriers, but no aircraft to put on them. And questions must be asked about how that contract was agreed - it's interesting to note that one of the ministers involved as a Defense Minister at the time and a woman who was involved in intelligence and so on. Has recently taken a job with one of the main beneficiaries of the contract, Thalyis. We also have a number of other ministers; we also have a number of other ministers. A minister who was seriously involved in stopping the prosecution of BAE for possible corruption involving Arab countries is now working for BAE! Now this shouldn't be possible - people will quite reasonably ask the question - was that ministers decision influenced when they were in office by future job contracts? This is at least as serious as the expenses scandal as a possible weakness in our democratic system - and one we have to clear up.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International: “We do think that the revolving door is spinning out of control because the current system that we have for regulating it is very weak and is also very opaque.”

Narration: You can use this to your advantage -for example, consider getting Tony Blair on your pay roll. Since leaving office he's made a bigger fortune than any other British Prime Minister in history. Last year, he even bagged job working for a middle east investment fund with oil interests in Iraq. It's also worth getting in touch with a former Defence ministers. Michael Portillo was the secretary of state for Defence from 1995 to 1997. Soon after leaving his job he took up a directorship at BAE systems. John Reid is a former Labour Defence secretary. He now works for a global security company. And Geoff Hoon was secretary of state for Defence from 1999 until 2005 he now works for Agustawestland - the very same company with whom he approved a 1 billion pound helicopter contract when he was in government. But don't limit yourself to politicians, civil servants can also come in handy.

SOUNDBITE [English], Douglas Carswell, MP, Conservative Party: “We like to think that those we elect determine public policy. But again and again and again, when you look more closely, it's the unelected officials in Whitehall, rather than elected officials in the house of commons that i think tend to have real decision making responsibility that is of interest to big corporations. There are some big Corporate interests that quite often hire senior officials from Whitehall departments and put them on their payroll. I felt so concerned about the revolving door, that I made a list of all those officials that the committee of grandees had approved to go and work in the private sector. And i then wrote to their formers departments and asked to see any meetings they had had at their old departments and copies of any minutes from those meetings.”

Narration: The letters that Douglas got back, revealed an extra-ordinary picture. Senior officials when put on the payroll of private corporate vested interests are back in and out of their former departments faster than a revolving door in many cases.These meetings show a meeting between three men. Sir Bill Jeffry, the top civil servant at the ministry of defense. Kevin Tebbitt, Jeffry's predecessor at the MoD who has since become the chairman of Finmeccanica UK - the parent company of AgustaWestland. And Graham Cole - the managing director of AgustaWestland itself. The minutes appear to show Tebbitt threatening Jeffry that his company will launch a hostile media campaign against the Ministry of Defence if it doesn't move things forward with the future lynx helicopter contracts. A lovely example of the uses of the revolving door in defence, but it's much the same in oil.

TIME CODE: 20:00_24:28

SOUNDBITE [English], Gregg Muttitt, Author: “Before the Iraq war the most senior civil servant in the foreign office, he's called the head of the diplomatic service, the 5 people to hold that post, the previous 5 before the Iraq war, of those 5, 4 of them on leaving government service became directors of Oil and Gas companies - two in Shell, one in BP and one in BG. So these are the same people moving directly from the most senior role in British Foreign policy, to senior roles in oil and gas companies.”

SOUNDBITE [English], David Miller, Director, Spinwatch: “You have a culture which grows up, of people being very close to each other in terms of ideas and thinking and a shared sense of how things should operate. The attempt to actually change minds is not really very important because all the minds have already been changed by the revolving door process, where they all start to think in the same way, and start to believe that the corporations interests are the only interests worth paying attention so it produces a kind of group-think, the revolving door, but it also provides a mechanism for structural conflict of interest.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Gregg Muttitt, Author: “Oil interests are at the heart of British foreign policy. That comes from the British government's own strategic agendas, it comes from a revolving door between the oil companies and the foreign office, and it comes from very regular contact as we've seen from these meeting minutes, between the senior officials of these companies and the government. The oil companies and the civil servants in the foreign office see themselves as almost part of the same organization.”

Narration: However, if you aren't in the arms trade, and you don't own an oil company, and you don't think it's right that big business is running rings round our democracy, here are a few ways we could start clearing things up. First, let's introduce a statutory register of lobbyists.

SOUNDBITE [English], Paul Flynn, MP, Labour Party: “The answer is for Cameron to fulfill his promise and have a compulsorily register of lobbyists which would be open, which would explain what their contacts are, what their interests are, who's stuffing their wallets with money, and it will end much of the damaging effects that lobbying has now.”

Narration: Second, let's make things more transparent.

SOUNDBITE [English], Douglas Carswell, MP, Conservative Party: “A statutory register on it's own, the real way of dealing with this is much simpler, much more basic: transparency. When a minister or a senior parliamentarian meets with a particular vested interests, I think they should put details of that meeting on line. If you do that, transparency and public opinion will do the rest.”

Narration: Third, let's get former officials to wait a little longer before taking up sensitive jobs in the private sector and in special cases let's stop the revolving door from spinning all together.

SOUNDBITE [English], Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International: “We think that especially in sensitive areas, like defence that maybe it is better that there should actually be a life time ban. So that the minister in question would not be able to take up employment in a company which has benefited from a contract while that minister was in power. The system as it works right now is very open to risk, and that's not good for the UK.”

   

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