As Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, I am pleased to see that the campaigning group, 38 degrees, has organized a public meeting in Chippenham for 18th October, with Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames, which will discuss the so-called “Gagging bill”, or to give it the official title, the ‘Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill’
The proposed law Bill would make three major changes to the regulation of campaigning by non-party organisations in the year running up to a general election; breaching theose would become a criminal offence. For example, organising a trade union conference or a national demonstration in the preceding 12 months before a general election would become a criminal offence.
Strangely however, it does almost nothing to curtail the efforts of big business lobbyists, who seek to influence government policy behind closed doors
Firstly,the new law would redefine campaigning, not only to include activities deliberately intended to influence an election result, but also to regulate activity that simply might affect the result of an election. As the TUC observes, “any criticism of government policy can affect how people vote, this would severely limit any organisation’s ability to campaign against government policies before an election.”
The Bill also slashes the spending limit for third party campaigners by more than 50%, to £390,000, and this must now also include staff time. During the 2010 general election, the racist neo-Nazi party, the BNP stood in the Chippenham constituency, and the anti-extremism group, Hope not hate, and local trade unions campaigned to ensure that voters were given the true facts about the BNP. The proposed gagging law would make such anti-fascist campaigning very difficult indeed.
Organisations that campaign locally face even tougher challenges. Spending has to be allocated by constituency under tough limits. Every penny of spending will have to be tallied and reported – which would severely limit campaigns seeking to – for example – defend the universal service obligation and uniform tariff from Royal Mail, should it be privatized. Any spending seeking to promote Corsham station being re-opened, or from either supporters or detractors of the Avon Vale hunt would be unlawful.
Jenny Watson, Head of the Electoral Commission has said that the government’s proposals are so broad that they pose ‘real questions around free speech’. This is an attack on basic human rights worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship.
graphic from unlock democracy via HnH#
Published and promoted by Chippenham Labour Party on behalf of Andy Newman, both of 5 Elm Hayes, Corsham, SN13 9JW
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