It’s a good thing more and more people are waking up to the potential implications of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. With the Electoral Commission describing its restrictions on political campaigning by non-Party organisations as “unworkable”, a view echoed by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations there may be some hope that the Government will back off.
Some of us had spotted this earlier in the summer (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/whats-this-about-transparency-of.html?m=1) - thanks, it has to be said, to Keith Ewing (http://www.tradeunionfreedom.co.uk/keith-ewing-another-political-attack-on-free-speech/).
Someone I’ve never heard of, Tom Brake MP, who claims to be Deputy Leader of the House of Commons says we shouldn’t worry because Ministers don’t mean to restrict campaigning by charities (http://www.libdemvoice.org/tom-brake-on-38-degrees-and-the-transparency-and-lobbying-bill-35874.html). I note that this illiberal anti-democrat has nothing to say about whether it is the intention to restrict trade unions.
However, and this is something you think even the Lib Dems would have picked up by now as they have been in Government for three years, the interpretation of legislation is not determined by warm words from Ministers (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transparency-of-lobbying-bill-response-to-38-degrees) but rather depends on the courts.
Even if the wording in the Bill which could outlaw next year’s Trades Union Congress really is just unintended ambiguity (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23750845) it only takes a small number of rogue extremists on the wilder shores of the Tory backbenches (http://turc.org.uk/) to turn that ambiguity into mischievous litigation, the outcome of which could be catastrophic for democracy.
As political parties continue to shrink and atrophy, it is to non-party campaigning organisations that people look to give voice to concerns which those of us who see the need for parties might wish they would channel through party politics. Clumsy attempts to clamp down on non-party campaigning won’t drive people back into party membership.
Presumably the Lib Dems are fronting this because they feel they have least to lose from it - and are most in favour of the state funding of political parties in the direction of which this tends. However, these restrictions should surely be opposed by any true liberal (or, for that matter, by libertarian Tories) as well as by all Labour MPs.
I hope campaigners don’t allow themselves to be fobbed off and pile the pressure on MPs over the next few days. 38 Degrees have an online petition at https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/chloe-smith-lobbying-bill.
Courtesy of Jon Rogers at Jon’s Union Blog