in Politics

Banned words and the point of lobbying

I’m surprised by the reaction to my post on the Local Government Association (LGA) banned words story yesterday. Generally, people have tended to agree with me – the point of lobbying is not to do something that results in people having a lower opinion of your client, especially when that opinion is because you’re implying they do things they’ve never done.

What is interesting is the range of people who have contacted me. Obviously those in local government have an interest, and it’s perhaps not surprising they would support my view. But I was amazed to get an email from a local resident. I would have thought this is a fairly limited local government issue, but they wondered exactly what the LGA did to have so much time on their hands to be able to release this. And I was also suprised when a couple of people in the LGA told me, privately, they thought it was entirely the wrong story to push.

But not everyone agrees. Almost as soon as I’d posted there was a comment from Roger Storer who – quite rightly – pointed out that I do some work for the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA).

And he’s right, I should’ve put that in. The IDeA is part of the LGA family, if somewhat arms length, and for want of a better description acts as a consultancy -I’m paid because the IDeA are paid by their clients who are (I hope) satisfied with the job we’ve done. It isn’t funded through subscriptions, or to act as a lobbyist for councils.

It’s for others to judge if I’m being hypocritical, but I don’t believe occasionally working for the IDeA means I should support, without question, every action of the LGA.

[I happen to think, with some evidence, Roger is what is known as a sockpuppet, someone pretending to be someone else to advance their argument. But despite that I have let his comment stand for the sake of transparency.]

Very shortly afterwards Richard Stokoe, the LGA press officer responsible for the banned words list, called me to discuss the story. And in the interests of fairness I’ll give his take.

The LGA think the press release was carefully worded to avoid any mention of councils (except two positive examples) and instead referred to public services generally. And the argument they were able to articulate in interviews, such as on the Today programme, was that it was really a problem with central government who created these words and phrases which then trickled out to the wider public sector.

He also pointed out that local government tends to have a bad track record in communication, with (nationally, the Wandsworth figure is much better) only about half of all people feeling well unformed by their local council.

I would argue that they should have worded their press release more carefully, it’s a fairly obvious conclusion to assume a Local Government Association press release is about local government. And that people feeling badly informed is about how and when councils communicate – it clearly isn’t the words they use because they’d be showing up in Google.

He also said that they will be reviewing the coverage and reaction, as they always do, before deciding how to deal with the issue in future.

Personally, I can only hope they take the decision to drop it totally.

Leave a Reply