Polly Toynbee writes in The Guardian about the Lobby Bill, which will be debated by MPs today:
The “transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill” will treat charities, thinktanks, blogs, community groups and activists of every hue as political parties. From tiny groups vocal on local matters to great national organisations, all risk being silenced in the year before a general election, to avoid falling under electoral law. Any organisation spending Â£5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission.
The way permitted campaign spending is calculated has been widened in remit and cut by 60%, so it includes all staffing costs for the year. That will include not only large charities but little groups affiliated to national umbrella organisations whose spending will contribute to a national capped limit. So a Save Our Sure Start or Save Our Hospital in a small town finds every linked Sure Start or NHS campaign counted into its local spending for electoral purposes. Since almost everything is political, this kills much debate in election years when voters should be hearing policy choices.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations publishes a report from a human rights QC warning that the bill could breach the right to freedom of speech. Lawyers for many charities warn of a legal minefield for trustees: if they trip into electoral law they must send weekly reports of all their spending during the electoral period, when any slip risks criminal charges. The government denies the bill will silence campaigners, but a letter of protest representing swaths of charities â€“ from the British Legion to Citizens Advice â€“ crosses the political divide. The campaign group 38 Degrees says the “proposed gagging law would have a chilling effect on British democracy”. The Taxpayers’ Alliance agrees: “The bill is a serious threat to independent politics that will stifle free and open democratic debate.”
This obviously has huge implications for a national, grass-roots campaign group like NO2ID.
There’s more background on the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ web site.
Anyone who’s concerned about this should contact their MP today – it only takes a moment using the Write To Them web site.