Lobbyist influence exposed in new Cameron scandal


Lord Bell of Belgravia, founder of the lobbying firm at the centre of a new scandal

One reason for the collapse of voters’ confidence in mainstream politicians and parties is that they know – whichever party is elected – real influence remains not with ordinary citizens but with unelected lobbyists who can buy access to MPs and ministers.

Very unusually, part of the inner workings of these lobbies have now been exposed in an investigation by The Independent newspaper which has embarrassed elite political circles in London.

Senior executives at one of the capital’s largest and best connected lobbying companies Bell Pottinger have been secretly filmed talking about how they can buy access to the very top of David Cameron’s government for agents of the brutal dictatorship in Uzbekistan.  The Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov is a former Soviet official who has been in power for more than twenty years since the fall of communism.  Former British Ambassador Craig Murray was removed from his post in Uzbekistan in 2004 after exposing abuses of human rights, to which Britain and America turned a blind eye in return for Uzbek cooperation in the so-called “war on terror”.

Bell Pottinger agreed to lobby on behalf of Uzbek interests in a series of secretly filmed meetings during the summer of this year.  Managing director Tim Collins, a former Conservative MP and shadow minister, boasted of his contacts at the top of the government:
“I’ve been working with people like Steve Hilton, David Cameron, George Osborne for 20 years-plus.  There is not a problem getting the messages through.”

He also recommended that the lobbyists should have lunch with the chief leader writer at The Times, Daniel Finkelstein, and that something might then “get dropped into a future column”.  Finkelstein was political adviser to then Tory leader (and current Foreign Secretary) William Hague from 1997 to 2001.

In return for payments of £100,000 a month, Collins even promised that internet search engines could be manipulated to give a more positive view of issues such as child labour and torture in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek “client” was of course an undercover journalist.  But who else might Bell Pottinger have been helping with the “dark arts” of lobbying?

The most prominent recent client is the government of Bahrain, another brutal dictatorship where Western governments turn a blind eye to torture and killings because the Bahraini royal family are friends of Israel.

The company’s founder is Tim Bell, chief image maker for Margaret Thatcher.  He was ennobled in 1998 by Tony Blair and is now Lord Bell of Belgravia – though he has a less than noble past.  For five years Tim Bell was a notorious cocaine abuser, and in 1977 he was convicted of indecent exposure near his Hampstead home.

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