I’m so proud.
My city just became the first in the UK to officially oppose the Lobbying Bill aka ‘the Gagging Law‘. On the 12th December my city council passed a formal motion against the bill, and there’s going to be a big public meeting – that all local residents can attend – on the 9th January 2014. This victory is at least in part because of the campaigning work of citizen action group 38 Degrees, whose members sent thousands of emails to local councillors laying down their views on the Gagging Law. People power!
If you haven’t heard of the Gagging Law, it’s a controversial bill to limit campaigning during the year running up to general elections. It’s full name is the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Quite a mouthful, huh? It’s pretty confusing but it seems there’s two main parts to it. The bit everyone’s worried about is the part that aims to monitor and restrict the campaigning done by unions, NGOs, charities and simple community groups in the run-up to election time. That’s very worrying and totally not okay for a couple of reasons, which I’ll lay down in a minute. As you might imagine, the government is very much under-exaggerating this part, and bigging up the other part, which does the same thing but for commercial interests. Now that’s a good idea. Corporations should be limited in how much political lobbying they can get away with. Unfortunately, the proposed bill is inexcusably weak on this critical issue, leaving loads of wriggle room and loopholes ready for their Big Business chums.
It seems almost like the bill is just an excuse to squash the voice of the public. But that’s crazy, right?
So what’s so bad about third sector groups having their political campaigns restricted? I should hope it’s fairly obvious. The right to make your views and concerns about public matters heard is an important feature of democracy. It’s about free speech. We need to be able to lobby politicians with thousands of emails about a specific issue if it’s important yet ignored. We as citizens deserve that right. Unions, NGOs, charities and other community groups are just loads of citizens grouped together because they have common concerns or interests. Campaigning, peaceful protesting and political lobbying is how we get our views across to our leaders. If we’re not allowed to do that, then what kind of democracy is this?
That’s why it’s so important. And additionally, non-profit organizations only spend a tiny amount on political lobbying compared with the commercial sector. They’re the ones who’ve got wallets big enough to entice governments into policies that we – the public – may not want or need. They do need regulation and a limit on their campaign spending. But the third sector, which is nowhere near rich enough to warrant worry or restriction, should remain free to speak loud and clear.
When the bill was passed in the House of Commons and moved into the House of Lords I was really worried it’d just pass through without much hassle. But the third sector groups it threatens are fighting fiercely against it, and my MP Caroline Lucas has been strongly opposing it in Parliament, even tabling her own amendments. Now my city has passed a motion to oppose it, and is opening out the discussion to the community in the new year.
I’m hopeful that other city councils will oppose the Gagging Law too, and that citizen power will come out on top.
But we need extra campaigning and media coverage to get there.
If you happen to live in Brighton, UK, then please come along to the public meeting on 9th January.
See details and RSVP on the facebook event page. I’ll be there!
Come on people, protect freedom of speech and democracy!