In the News

Links between ex-government ministers and business

Mike McCartney

9th April 2021

It goes further than Cameron and the Greensill lobbying saga, and raises important questions about democracy in the UK

Questions about the potential for linkages between ex-members of the government and big business to corrupt the British political system have received widespread coverage in the media in recent weeks. The highlight has been the allegations that ex-PM David Cameron tried to make use of his role as a former PM to influence the current government to help a now defunct bank, Greensill.

But I have been holding on to a copy of the i newspaper from 2 April of this year, which carries a story claiming that as many as 66 former Cameron ministers took jobs on leaving government that were linked to their portfolio.

See: Revealed: 66 David Cameron ministers and aides took jobs linked to portfolio (inews.co.uk)

What does this mean in plain English? The implication is that these former members of government were offered posts that they would have got nowhere near had they not been promoted to the jobs they had in government. In other words, their experience in the private sector had nothing to do with these lucrative contracts, often involving 'advisory' work. You might say in defence of some individuals who had exited government that having gained experience in that sector/field while in government that they had benefited from 'on the job' training and so had become suitably qualified. Well, some impartial observers might say that is a very charitable way of looking at things, and that is why we have rules in place that are designed to guard against a situation where money buys undue access and influence. Critics argue that the rules are not strict enough and the playing field is not level. It might even be said that it is anti-democratic and that we are governed by a plutocracy, where less well resourced groups are put at a disadvantage. This writer is not saying this has happened, but the argument goes that the well funded road lobby, say, might theoretically have more chance of influencing transport policy if they have an ex-Transport minister in their ranks than a group like Transport 2000 (this is just a hypothetical example).

What we have, then, is a so-called 'revolving door'. This has been used in examples in US pressure group analysis for years. For example, here is a blog by this writer on this platform dating from 2009...

"Browsing the Open Secrets site I have been fascinated by their feature on the revolving door.

As the site states:

"Although the influence powerhouses that line Washington's K Street are just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol building, the most direct path between the two doesn't necessarily involve public transportation. Instead, it's through a door—a revolving door that shuffles former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers. While members of the executive branch, Congress and senior congressional staffers spin in and out of the private and public sectors, so too does privilege, power, access and, of course, money."

On the site you can track movement between congressional and executive offices and lobbying firms. The scale and degree of activity is quite staggering.

This is an excellent site for consolidating knowledge on this much discussed, but often misunderstood phenomenon. Note for instance, that lobby firms seek to attract those with agency/executive experience as well as congressional staffers, not just ex-congressmen."

Now the concept of the revolving door and institutional corruption seems to be of increasing concern on this side of the Atlantic.

Some good academic research here: Social-Market-FoundationInstitutional-Corruption-the-revolving-door-in-American-and-British-politics.pdf (smf.co.uk)

Experts from Transparency International have frequently been quoted in the UK media on the revolving door idea. Here is their backgrounder on the topic: CPEI_QuickGuides_RD.pdf (transparency.org.uk)

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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