Tag Archives: third party

Wannabe tyrants’ flimsy excuses for blocking non-party campaigning

Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it's your right to criticise.

Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it’s your right to free speech.

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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‘Chequebook politics’ to continue despite Transparency Bill amendments

"How much to make sure my company runs Project X, David?" Chequebook politics will continue to run the UK if the Transparency Bill is passed.

“How much to make sure my company runs Project X, David?” Chequebook politics will continue to run the UK if the Transparency Bill is passed.

You know the old saying: “You can fool all of the people some of the time … blah blah blah … but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

It seems the Conservative Party is determined to write in a new line: “But you can fool most of the people, enough of the time!”

Why else would they be doing what they’re proposing with the so-called Transparency Bill (which is in fact yet another permutation of their boring old bait-and-switch tactic)?

You know, dear reader, that this Bill is about ensuring that David Cameron’s corporate masters continue to have access to him whenever they want to open their chequebooks and give him an order. This blog – and others, we’re sure – has made that very clear.

You also know that it is about attacking the unions, rendering it almost impossible for them to carry out their business without being in breach of the new law.

The third section of the Bill – the part about “non-party campaigning” – was bolted on to provide a distraction, raising concerns across the country that free speech would be, effectively, outlawed in the UK. It seems clear now that this was included purely to provide a focal point for public outrage, away from the main purposes of the legislation.

Now, Andrew Lansley has come forward with amendments to the Bill – aimed at addressing “misunderstandings”. Misunderstandings on what?

On third party campaigning. And nothing else.

The government’s press release states that the amendments will:

  • Remove the additional test of “otherwise enhancing the standing of a party or candidates” from clause 26. This is to provide further reassurance to campaigners as to the test they have to meet in order to incur controlled expenditure. A third party will only be subject to regulation where its campaign can reasonably be regarded as intended to “promote or procure the electoral success” of a party of candidate,
  • Replace the separate listings for advertising, unsolicited material and manifesto/policy documents with election “material”; this is the language used in the current legislation that non-party campaigners and the Electoral Commission are already familiar with, and on which the Electoral Commission have existing guidance,
  • Make clear that it is public rallies and events that are being regulated; meetings or events just for an organisation’s members or supporters will not be captured by the bill. “We will also provide an exemption for annual events – such as an organisation’s annual conference”,
  • Ensure that non–party campaigners who respond to ad hoc media questions on specific policy issues are not captured by the bill, whilst still capturing press conferences and other organised media events, and
  • Ensure that all “market research or canvassing” which promotes electoral success is regulated.

Lansley added: “We have listened and acted, as I said we would do. I am confident that these changes will ensure that the concerns raised about the effect of the Bill on campaigning activities of charities have now been met.

“In doing so, the bill will continue to meet the necessary objective of giving transparency and proper regulation wherever third parties seek to have an influence directly on the outcome of elections.”

Anybody who believes that is all that’s wrong with this Bill is as gullible as Lansley wants them to be.

If you have contacted your MP about this Bill before, you may be surprised to hear that – unless you contact them again – they’re likely to believe that your fears about this Bill have been put to rest.

If they haven’t – and trust us on this, they shouldn’t – then it’s time to email them again.

Otherwise this government of millionaire marionettes will have fooled you again – and the corporate bosses pulling the strings will have good reason to be well pleased.