In 2010 David Cameron gave a speech in which he outlined “the next big scandal waiting to happen.”
Cameron said: “I’m talking about lobbying — and we all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”
Since then Cameron’s ex-ministers and ex-advisers have shown they took Cameron’s speech not as a warning, but as advice. They are queuing up to be “for hire” to “big business.” James Chapman is the latest in the queue.
For the last year Chapman has been a special adviser to Brexit Secretary David Davis. Before that he was director for communications for then-chancellor (now Evening Standard editor) George Osborne.
In July he became a “partner” in the “political practice” of lobbyists Bell Pottinger. The company has a long history of scandal.
In 2011, undercover reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism spoke to the company, claiming to be representatives of the government of Uzbekistan trying to get a better image. The journalists picked Uzbekistan because of its terrible record on human rights and child labour.
Bell Pottinger was happy to take the meeting, and suggested it had an inside track to the Tory leadership. Its boss, Tim Collins, told the undercover reporters: “I’ve been working with people like Steve Hilton [Cameron’s close adviser], David Cameron, George Osborne for 20 years-plus. There is not a problem getting the messages through.”
His colleague suggested Bell Pottinger could “facilitate” a meeting between then-prime minister Cameron and then-Uzbek president Islam Karimov.
So Bell Pottinger seems to perfectly fit Cameron’s complaints of “money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.”
The advisory committee on business appointments (ACOBA), the weak-jawed watchdog which is supposed to police the “revolving door” between business and politics, approved Chapman’s new job. It said he should not “lobby” the government for clients.
According to ACOBA: “Mr Chapman said that there could be very occasional, informal contact with special advisers or government ministers, such as if a client was invited to a stakeholder event organised by a government department.
“He made clear to the committee that any such contact would not involve lobbying government, but rather ‘straightforward exchanges of information’.”
ACOBA accepted Chapman’s argument — which shows that there is no real policing of lobbying.
Chapman is free to meet ministers and special advisers, because he has given his word he will be “straightforward” when working for Bell Pottinger.