|Margot James MP for Stourbridge|
When is an MP a spokesperson for big business, and when is big business an MP? If you can’t tell the difference, then you’re not alone, because some MPs are not so sure themselves.
Margot James is the Conservative MP for Stourbridge; having won her seat in the 2010 election to become one of the existing 15% of Tory Mps to come from a lobbying background. However a film taken of her at a lobbying group conference reveals she hasn’t really left it behind?
In 2004, Margot James was the Co-founder of public relations company, Shire Health Group, until she sold her firm to business partner and leading advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather for £4 million. In the process of the sale, Ms James became the Head of European Healthcare for Oglivy & Mather who are part of the WPP Group, one of the big three marketing and communications conglomerates.
In January 2005, the WPP Group formed a new healthcare area with the merger of Ogilvy Healthcare, and Healthworld Communications Group. Margot James, who was head of Ogilvy Healthcare at the time, as well as being a parliamentary spokesperson for the Conservative Party, took the role of regional president of the merged company. Ogilvy Healthworld provides marketing and medical education services to the pharmaceutical industry.
She stood down from her role in 2008, at the same time as giving up being a councillor in the Brompton ward of Kensington and Chelsea. Ms James wanted more however, and moved from a person of industry, to become an MP.
Yet, it appears the lure of her previous work has been too difficult to stay away from. Since becoming an MP, Ms James has continued to speak at events hosted by Healthcare Communication Associations (HCA), a lobbying group which according to its website, ‘has sufficient influence and credibility to shape opinion and lead debate.’
This statement is true.
Aside from the pharmaceutical giants who are listed as members, the HCA has a company called Huntsworth Health on its list, which is owned by Conservative Peer Lord Chadlington. The Lord has given money to David Cameron for his leadership campaign, and Huntsworth Health have provided donations to the party every year since 2008. Such influence in itself is a cause for concern, but another member in the HCA list is Ms James’s old employer Olgivy & Mather. This leaves the HCA with two voices in each of the parliamentary houses, and one vote in each house that helped pass the Health and Social Care bill into Act
Lobbying is rife, permeating every area of our political system and if Peter Cruddas the Tory co-treasurer is anything to go by ‘premiership’ access to policy change can be bought. Margot James sought confirmation on this in by asking Conservative MP Francis Maude to ’confirm that no such policy committee as described by Mr Cruddas exists at No.10 and that there is no evidence that any policy has been changed by private lobbying.’ Naturally, Mr Maude denied it was possible to bend policy in such a way
Margot however, certainly knows the way it works, having admitted she has made ‘some introductions to shadow ministers for charities and businesses,’ although she is adamant that this was purely on a ‘public interest basis.’ Incidentally, in her capacity as European president for Oligvy & Mather she gave evidence to the 2005 Health Select Committee inquiry in to the Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry, which concluded that the “close contact between the UK Government and the pharmaceutical industry in formulating health policy was illustrated by Ms Margot James”
Fortunately walls have ears and organisations are keen to boast, so when Margot James came to speak at an event hosted by the HCA, somebody filmed it. The seminar entitled: ‘The future of healthcare Communications’, took place in October 2010, two months prior to the publication of the White paper: Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, and after she became MP.
On taking to the podium, Ms James began by informing her audience how she was hoping to ‘go on the bill (Health) committee once the second reading of the health bill…comes to parliament.’ This she achieved, placing herself in a position where she could affect the bill in the interests of her former industry.
A little further into the video, she is seen telling the enthralled audience how she intends to; ‘play a part in that debate and go on the committee to really iron out the details...’ For the public good no doubt, although halfway though she mentions: ‘I keep saying ‘we’, but I’m not really part of the industry anymore, but I still feel it.’
There is no doubt about that, which is why when someone from the audience asks her how to bridge the gap between themselves and the new GP consortia, she offers them some advice: ‘If you’ve got it down to a consortia level, and you’ve got a few people old-style people who are just anti the industry for whatever reason, from way back when, you’ve got to find other people I think, that you can influence…that you can prove that those other people are wrong and who don’t speak for the wider good industry can bring. So it’s not easy but I do think it’s possible by dividing your audience in the way I’ve just described.’
Imagine my surprise then, when I came across an article in the Huffington Post written by Ms James titled: ‘Tackling Vested Interests in the NHS’. Needless to say she wasn’t talking about her own interests, but was claiming the debate over NHS reform was being ‘framed by vested interests in the NHS; principally the royal colleges and trade unions.’ Huffington Post like many media outlets allow our politicians to present blatant propaganda unchallenged in the name of 'impartiality'.
So Margot James another lobbying agent turned MP, was able to sit on the Health and Social Care bill committee, and vote on the Health and Social Care bill, despite having such clear and obvious conflicts of interest. She, like many MPs and Lords are playing their part in the weakening of our democracy, but perhaps when the people of Stourbridge next take to the ballot, they may want to ask themselves, who does my MP actually serve?
View the film of her seminar below: