Seeking the “power” of influence?

January 2013, Italy

What is power – and why do so many want it? Power as such doesn’t exist, except as electricity; in socio-political contexts, it only exists as a relationship, where one of the parties involved is in a stronger position and can rule over the other(s). So the phrase “power of influence” is in fact a tautology. Seeking to gain “power of influence” actually means seeking influence over others, which amounts to being able to dominate, either directly or through others who can.

The recent “buddying” scheme between multinational corporations and ministerial departments is a good example for the concept above. Since July 2011, when the scheme was introduced, fifty large firms (including oil, telecoms and pharmaceutical companies) have been granted privileged access to three departments – Business, Innovation and Skills; Energy and Climate Change; and Culture, Media and Sport. According to The Guardian (“More multinationals to get access to ministers”, 19 January 2013), the first 38 multinationals have so far had nearly 700 meetings with ministers between them. And the government is considering adding another thirty companies to this selected club list during 2013.

What might this many meetings do for, or add to, a relationship? Some might say – friendship, or very strong partnership; others – closeness, or cosiness; government calls it “buddying”. But whatever the name, the end result is the same – influence. And I wonder, how can such closeness between two dominant players (big business and political decision-makers) be good for all the others? How can society ever become a level-playing field, with such buddying schemes in place? What can we expect the two ‘buddies’ to do to the little men, except dominate them?

On the Institute for Human Rights and Business’ list of top ten priority issues for 2013, the call for greater transparency in lobbying by business is number eight. I wonder if this should be moved further up that list (which is available here).