What does lobbying mean – and how does it affect democracy?

Lobbying has been the center of much political controversy over the years – the most recent involving Owen Paterson, the Conservative MP from North Shropshire.

Paterson faced a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons after it was discovered he had violated paid advocacy rules, but his fellow MPs voted Wednesday Jan.

This has raised fears that this could lead to further conflicts of interest and thus further damage the already weak public confidence in politics.

In 2010, then Tory leader David Cameron said lobbying would be “the next big scandal” after MPs’ spending crisis. But what exactly is lobbying – and why is it so controversial?

What does lobbyism mean?

Lobbying is when an organization – be it a company, interest group, charity, or union – or an individual tries to convince MPs or councilors to support (or oppose) a particular policy.

MPs are constantly being deployed by various organizations on a wide variety of issues. This can be done in face-to-face meetings or by sending correspondence such as emails and letters.

While lobbying can be legitimate, there is a clear distinction between grassroots civil society organizations trying to convince MPs and companies that hire those MPs as paid advisers – as this has the potential for serious conflicts of interest.

How does lobbying affect democracy?

Critics say lobbying can undermine democracy by preferring rich and powerful actors – wealthy individuals and large corporations – at the expense of everyone else.

Lobbying often takes place behind closed doors, way out of the public eye – which makes it difficult for ordinary people to figure out what is being said and how it affects policy making.

Of course, not everyone has equal access to MPs. In general, the wealthier you are and the more influence you have, the more likely it is that some MPs will listen to you.

As a result, critics argue that lobbying can lead to policies that serve the interests of some powerful but that actively oppose the wider common good.

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