61% think it unacceptable for ex-ministers to work for companies trying to win government contracts

Patrick EnglishResearch Manager
April 23, 2021, 12:22 PM UTC

Britons oppose former ministers lobbying the government after they leave office, but are less worried about other commercial activities

The row surrounding former prime minister David Cameron and his work as a lobbyist for Greensill – a private company founded by his former adviser Lex Greensill – rumbles on, bringing into focus again the connection between private business and British politics.

Cameron has come under fire for messaging current government ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, to arrange meetings and pressure the government into giving Greensill access to COVID-related government loan schemes.

It is not against any rules for former government ministers to lobby the government on behalf of private companies after they have left office for more than two years, but the issue is quite contentious.

Now a new YouGov data survey asks the British public what it is and is not acceptable for former ministers to do.

In terms of working for companies who are seeking to win government contracts, 54% of respondents said it was unacceptable for former ministers to be employed to provide strategic advice, while 61% said it was unacceptable for them to be employed working to help win the contracts.

Just 20% and 15% of Brits think it is acceptable for ministers to provide advice or work for companies bidding for government contracts respectively.

Further, 58% of people think it is unacceptable for former ministers to be employed by a company who worked on government contracts while they were in office (15% acceptable). Just over two-in-five (44%) also say ministers working for foreign governments is unacceptable, compared to 25% who think it’s fine.

There are some small differences found between people who voted Conservatives and Labour at the 2019 general election.  For instance, three-in-five Conservative (60%) voters suggested that it was ‘unacceptable’ for former ministers to be employed to try to win government contracts for companies, compared to 68% of 2019 Labour voters. The conclusion is consistent, however – a clear majority of voters from both parties view the practice as unacceptable.

There are, however, some quite clear age differences. For example, while 65% of respondents aged 65 and over suggest that it is unacceptable for former ministers to be employed to give advice to companies on winning government contracts, only 41% of those aged 18-24 share this view.

The British public are not completely against former ministers having any kind of remunerated work after they leave office. A majority (52%) think it is acceptable for former ministers to be paid to give after dinner speeches (21% unacceptable), and 45% felt that being employed on company boards was acceptable (22% unacceptable). Meanwhile, 44% of respondents said it was acceptable for former ministers to be employed giving strategic advice to companies in general (27% unacceptable).

See the full results here