‘Dark arts’ of lobbying revealed

By politics.co.uk staff

Revelations about "embarrassing" strategems used by a lobbying firm have prompted further demands for reform from Labour.

An undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published in the Independent newspaper has shone a light on the methods used by lobbying firm Bell Pottinger, one of the biggest in the business.

Techniques which are not included in the written presentation "because it's embarrassing if it gets out" included a team which can "sort" negative Wikipedia entries and the creation and maintenance of third-party blogs promoting positive content.

Google search results could also "drown out" coverage of stories about human rights violations and child labour, the lobbying firm's representatives added. They were filmed secretly explaining their methods to journalists posing as representatives of Uzbekistan.

Tim Collins, managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, and his colleague David Wilson boasted of their links with senior figures in the government – up to and including the prime minister.

The pair cited an instance when Mr Cameron raised an issue with the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao less than 24 hours after a client had first contacted Bell Pottinger with their concern.

Mr Collins was recorded saying: "In terms of very fast turnaround and getting things done right at the top of government, if you've got the right message, we can do it."

The prime minister's official spokesman said it was "simply untrue" that any  lobbying firm had influenced government policy.

The secret interviews were recorded this summer, before Liam Fox's resignation from the Cabinet in October over his blurred links with best man and 'adviser' Adam Werritty.

Labour said "very serious allegations" had been made which involved "some of David Cameron's closest confidants inside Downing Street".

Shadow Cabinet Office minister John Trickett said: "We need reform to ensure that there is no question of the rich and powerful buying access to the prime minister and his advisers.

"As we saw during the Adam Werrity affair which forced Liam Fox's resignation, this is a government which appears to be too close to corporate interests but desperately out of touch with families, businesses and young people struggling to get by."

In a statement to the Independent, Bell Pottinger chairman Lord Bell said: "The conduct of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism does not remotely constitute responsible journalism. It is an attempt by unethical, deception to manufacture a story where none exists."

Labour backbencher John Cryer is raising the issue in the Commons later with a ten-minute-rule bill on the regulation of commercial lobbying interests.