I first became aware of the Bureau of Investigative Journalists latest work with Kim Hill’s interview last Saturday. The Bureau’s been investigating lobbying, and more specifically, Britain’s top PR firm (as rated by PRWeek and Marketing magazine for the past 4 years), Bell Pottinger (headed by Thatcher’s former media adviser, Lord Bell).
The ultimate sting ended up being posing as an Uzbekistani company aiming to improve Uzbekistan’s image on behalf of their government, and increase trade. Uzbekistan is thought to use child labour in state cotton mills among other human rights violations that led to it featuring in Freedom House’s “Worst of the Worst” regimes.
What they recorded was senior people at the firm claiming to have serious influence over the British government. They boasted of contacts in all the main 3 parties, but particularly the Conservative Party. PM David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Office Minister William Hague, along with Cameron’s chief of staff, and Cameron’s closest adviser were all friends of the lobbyists, so they could get their message heard at the very top.
For GBP100,000/month (plus some minor improvements in Uzbekistan’s human rights to be able to spin) they could start organising such things as a visit by David Cameron, or even a Royal. They’d massage search engine results so that if you looked up ‘uzbek child labour’ the first several pages would be stories about what Uzbekistan was doing about it, rather than criticism. They’d adjust Wikipedia, removing criticism, and adding praise. They could arrange MPs to attack certain current affairs shows’ credibility.
Former clients include Augusto Pinochet and the Pinochet foundation, the government of Belarus, the president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Sri Lanka (re: attacks on Tamils) and Russian oligarch Boris Berozovsky. They still act for Trafigura, famous for their super-injunction trying to stop reporting of the House of Commons about their toxic oil spill that killed 15 and injured thousands. More recently they started acting for News of the World’s former head Rebekah Wade – just to connect current British scandals.
They have more mundane clients as well, including Dyson, who they boasted of having within a day managed to get a scheduled meeting between Cameron and the Chinese Premier to include discussion about Chinese rip-offs of Dyson products.
Such is the level of power and influence that they offered as a prize at the last Conservative annual conference 2 weeks work experience with them. Yes you get to work for them for free for 2 weeks as a high-value fundraising prize…
Now that this has surfaced MPs have been forced to have a select committee investigation into lobbying. Most MPs believe there is a need for a register of lobbyists and their interests, but not quite a majority of Conservative MPs…
The loopholes that cause the problem are very similar to the loopholes here. We also are lacking the transparency of a register of lobbyists and their interests. And we also have former MPs with a parliamentary pass free to walk the corridors and lobby their friends without openness.
Perhaps it’s something that we need to look at as well – before we have a scandal, rather than after it…