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Lobbying: The art of political persuasion by Lionel Zetter

Cover of  by Lionel Zetter

"There is good lobbying and bad lobbying, just like there is good sex and bad sex, but I think most of us would prefer to have bad sex rather than no sex at all." Lionel Zetter first uttered these words - which could suitably appear on his tombstone - at a Select Committee hearing.

Now he has written an easy-to-follow manual of political persuasion that could have been called the Joy of Lobbying or the Good Lobbying Guide.

It is clearly from lobbying, a term he much prefers to mealy-mouthed euphemisms such as public affairs, that Lionel gets his kicks. He is a well-known and much-liked doyen of the sector, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and this year's Personality of the Year as voted by readers of Public Affairs News. So it is no surprise that the great and the good of that world queue up to pay tribute in the cover blurb. In other words, this is more or less the official bible of the lobbying industry.

I'm a relative newcomer to PR - after almost two decades of having fun in journalism and politics I settled down and set up a consultancy, and Lionel has written one of the first handbooks for anyone contemplating a career in lobbying, and for the 4,000 people he estimates work at agencies or in-house in the UK.

The manual begins with an uncontentious definition: "Lobbying is the process of seeking to influence government and its institutions by informing the public policy agenda" or, rather more succinctly, "the art of political persuasion". It goes on to give a series of useful tips for practitioners, sprinkled with amusing anecdotes of past successes and failures.

The sections on the basic tools of the trade are useful primers. There are common sense suggestions on how to approach different categories of target in Westminster and Whitehall. And there is an idiot's guide to how it all works, as well as a real insider's advice on everything from the procedure for tabling written questions in the House of Commons to the range of function rooms available to members in the Palace of Westminster.

For readers already immersed in the Westminster village who want to broaden their horizons, Lionel is very good on the intricacies of the devolved executives and legislatures in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and London. There is also a good map of the workings of local government, steering you through the maze of such topics as planning and licensing.

Lionel has also provided a valuable encyclopaedia of the European Union. For instance, the specific policy areas that the Committee of the Regions must be consulted about were unknown to me before, and now I could answer any pub quiz question about the concept of "comitology".

Lest anti-Europeans jump on this point, the book shines just as bright a light on the US government system. Could you list all the committees of the House of Representatives? Also, given the explosion of power - and consequently lobbying industry interest - in Asia, there is a brief concluding chapter on the do's and don'ts in a few of the major countries in the region. This will no doubt be a much larger survey in subsequent editions.

It seems to me that, back here in Britain, there are two significant challenges facing the lobbying industry: the continuing taint of sleaze associated with the very idea of winning influence in the corridors of power, compounded by periodic scandals, and the terribly lumpy quality of the service.

It is also clear that there is far too little training for many lobbyists. However complacent they may be about sex, a good read of Zetter might help raise their professional performance and leave everyone a bit more satisfied with their activities.

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