With the Antisocial Behaviour Bill successfully blocked (for the time being), defenders of Free Speech may return to the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, and its provision to block any campaigning that our right-wing government doesn’t like.
Caroline Lucas MP, writing in The Guardian today, informs us that the Tories’ and Liberal Democrats’ current rationale for the plan to gag us all is to prevent, say, large fracking firms from spending huge amounts of money in her Brighton Pavilion constituency to unseat her.
The Green Party MP writes: “Yes, apparently Tory and Lib Dem supporters of the bill are defending its swingeing provisions at public meetings up and down the country by claiming they’re necessary in order to prevent fracking firm Cuadrilla pumping a million pounds into Brighton Pavilion to unseat me, and – of course – they would hate to see that happen.”
This is laughable. No member of one party would lift a finger to prevent a member of another from losing their seat.
However, we can use this argument to get to a more likely truth – simply by reversing it.
So let’s suggest that the plan to cut, drastically, spending limits on campaigns by third-party organisations, to broaden the definition of what constitutes campaigning in order to catch more people within the legislation and to regulate organisations lobbying on issues at constituency level is in fact intended to protect Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats from attacks by ordinary people like you and me.
Does this seem more likely?
The evidence does tend to stack up in favour. The legislation is already well-known as the ‘Gagging’ Bill and, as Ms Lucas explains in her article, “would effectively shut down legitimate voices seeking to raise awareness on issues of public interest, whether they are on NHS reform, housing policy, or wildlife conservation”.
Taking just those three examples, the general public remains infuriated at the way the Health and Social Care Act – otherwise known as the NHS Privatisation Act – was pushed through Parliament while mounting public and professional opposition to its provisions was ignored. We counted on our representatives in Parliament and in the press and they let us down. The BBC in particular should hang its corporate head in shame. The ‘Gagging’ Bill would ensure that we could not raise the issue again during an election period, giving the Coalition parties a chance to brush it under the carpet or dismiss it as old news.
The Bedroom Tax will remain a burning issue until after the 2015 election, whether the government likes it or not – the recent revelation that regulations governing people who were social housing tenants before 1996 exempt them from the Tax ensures it, as the government has already committed itself to re-writing those regulations and re-assessing the tenants who are currently let off the hook. Not only that, but tenants who have already lost money – or perhaps even their homes – because they didn’t know these regulations still applied will want reparation for the way they have been treated; let’s not forget that any harm done to those tenants is an illegal act. The ‘Gagging’ Bill would sideline these people and this issue.
As for wildlife conservation, you may be aware that there has been a hugely controversial cull of badgers in a couple of English counties. The pretext for this is the eradication of Tuberculosis – the badgers are said to carry the disease and pass it on to cattle, causing costly damage to herds. However, it seems not one culled badger has been tested for the disease – and at £4,100 per dead badger, is the cull not fairly costly itself?
Coming back to the Guardian article, Ms Lucas hits the nail on the head: “Big business or wealthy people like Lord Ashcroft don’t influence politics through charities, small community groups or campaigning organisations. They often already gain it through family connections or social networks, or they buy it through donations to political parties. Or, in the case of the big energy companies, they helpfully supply staff to work in government departments. The provisions of the lobbying bill will do nothing to stop any of that.
“Sadly, one of the underlying reasons for the government’s attempts to push through this bill is that it is afraid of the power of informed and organised public opinion.
“If Nick Clegg and David Cameron get their way, the legitimate voices of the third sector will be suppressed, and their power neutered.”
Isn’t that what tyrants (or in this case, wannabe tyrants) do?
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