Book review: Lobbying by Lionel Zetter

Lionel Zetter’s book, Lobbying: The Art of Political Persuasion, has become the default British guide to how lobbying works. A detailed publication of over 450 pages, it is a ‘how to’ guide for the profession that also acts as an introduction to lobbying for people whose encounter with the subject has previously been mainly through the medium of newspaper headlines about scandals.

It is an insider’s account – Zetter was voted Public Affairs Personality of the Year in 2008 by readers of Public Affairs News – and unashamedly argues about the benefits of lobbying in a democracy. As Zetter’s book explains, much of lobbying is rather prosaic and straight-forward – and helping a health charity work out how best to put its case to MPs is far removed from the world of those headlines, even if the word ‘lobbying’ applies to them both. Moreover, as Zetter writes,

Lobbying by Lionel Zetter - book coverWhenever an individual, or group of individuals, wields power over society, there will be other individuals or groups of individuals who will have tried to persuade them to exercise that power in a particular way. Lobbying is both natural and inevitable … If the barons had not lobbied King John, he would not have signed the Magna Carta … There are at least two sides to every argument, and as in a court of law it is only right that both parties should have access to professional representation which will ensure that their side of the argument is put across.

The final point highlights the concerns many people have over lobbying, namely that those with money employ lobbyists to put over a case in a way that either a poorer or more diffuse other side (e.g. a small organisation or the public in general) can find much harder. In response Zetter talks in some detail about the responses of the lobbying industry to past scandals such as ‘Cash for questions’ and points out how lobbying is not simply done for large commercial interests; indeed, “pressure groups are, in some respects, the ultimate lobbyists … Charities are also pressure groups”.

Zetter’s book has a large number of tips scattered through the text from lobbyists and others in the public relations business or on the receiving end of lobbying campaigns. It also has many practical tips from the author himself, so that even an experienced lobbying professional may often find it useful to flick through to pick up ideas or reminders. For beginners, there is also good advice on how to get your first job in the profession.

The book is at its weakest on understanding how to influence the Liberal Democrats, understandably perhaps as the author has a long record of Conservative Party activity and the book was written and published prior to election, hung Parliament and coalition. That also means some of the sections on the structure of government, especially in Downing Street, have aged too – though the content about the online world has aged very little save for several of the political blogs listed being no more.

That the book is primarily aimed at a British audience does not keep its content within these shores. Lobbying in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East all get their own sections even if the selection of individual countries is a little hit and miss at times.

Overall it is far more a textbook for dipping in and out of than a book to sit down and read for long periods of time. But whichever way you read it, it is a good introduction to lobbying, how and why it is done and what ethical rules should be followed.

You can buy Lobbying: The Art of Political Persuasion by Lionel Zetter from Amazon here.

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6 Comments

  • Am intrigued why this has been reviewed now – has it been updated? I purchased it probably over a year ago.

    As a lobbyist, I found it a good intro. I disagree slightly with the previous comment that lobbying favours the rich. Lobbying is just a method of influence, surely? Those with more resources may have more capacity to lobby but that’s like saying education favours the rich – isn’t it about access to the tools rather than the tools themselves? Just a thought. I would say that though obviously, as I’m a lobbyist.

  • Simon McGrath 30th Dec '10 - 10:24am

    Lobbying is not just big companies it is also charities and pressure groups bizarrely sometimes funded by the Government and the EU promoting their own interests.

    All of these are acting in their own interests and in a free society should be able to lobby. There is a simple way to protect the public interest – all meeting between lobbyists and government officials/Ministers should be minuted and a copy made available on appropriate website.
    Much lobbying has now moved to Brussels where it is far more opaque than in Westminster and where transparency would be equally useful

  • @Mark Pack

    I’m well aware that other peoples’ book choices / recommendations are like anything else subject to personal taste, but … 😉
    … you might find the recently published book, ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ by Chris Hedges quite interesting.

    It’s the American liberals not the British liberals under discussion, though there are some interesting parallels, such as the privatisation of American universities. For a flavour of the book, there’s a 20 minute Grit TV interview with the author in link below.The interview focuses on the early 20th century, however the book looks right up to presnt day.

    http://www.blip.tv/file/4377362

  • As Geoffrey Payne says, lobbying can be good and bad – just depends where you stand – or which end of the telescope you’re looking through. The subject is closely linked to party funding – or entangled!

    I came to a conclusion on lobbying, pressure groups etc. some time ago. The process needs to be transparent – completely transparent and shared with the population. I favour presentations to political representatives, broadcast on the democracy channels in the same way select committees are covered. This could include presentations to political parties using public facilities. The shadier aspects of lobbying – such as we’ve seen by Geoff Hoon and others – need to be closed off. One-to-one lobbying is difficult to tackle on a practical level, but regulation of lobbying by groups-to-groups is achievable.

    I also agree with Geoffrey Payne’s comment that, by and large, lobbying favours the rich – in that a ‘few’ can and do exert more influence than the ‘many.’

    I’d take issue with Geoffrey Payne’s comment, “…in the 1960s they [tobacco industry] argued there were no health problems with smoking at all.” I can tell you they were still putting forward the same view in the late 70s. I used to work for Imperial Tobacco.

  • Nick(not Clegg) 30th Dec '10 - 4:17pm

    “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
    W. Shakespeare, Hamlet II,ii, 250

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