What is it?
Nobody likes corruption in government. Deary me, no. We can't have that sort of thing. What we want is a 'level playing field', equal access to ministers and their officials, and an open and transparent system. But, in the real world, powerful companies hire lawyers and other advisers to make sure government is in no doubt about what legislation should or should not contain. Lobbying is not illegal and not necessarily wrong. It will probably always go on. But it is a significant cost of doing business. And SMEs can lose out in this big boys' game.
Where did it come from?
In earlier, more straightforward times you didn't so much have to lobby as get your wallet out. Almost every man had his price in the happy knowledge that payments could be made without fear of detection. As societies matured and institutions grew in force, it became clear it was in the interests of business that practice was normalised and became legitimate. So, while anti-corruption legislation came into effect, lobbying could nonetheless continue openly. After all, the great central lobby in the Palace of Westminster is designed for that very purpose. Bit murky in there though, isn't it?
Where is it going?
Out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Peter Cruddas's expansive description of how to become a 'premier league' influencer of government policy - 100 grand, not bad, 250 grand, now you're talking - may have caused short-term political embarrassment. But it was a sharp reminder that the wheels of party politics need oiling - in the absence of alternatives such as public funding of parties. Of course, if you do want to influence government you could always try the other route suggested by former chancellor Alistair Darling: write a letter. You know, it might just work.
Gradient: A very slippery slope downwards. Get a safety rope.