Lobbying bill: silencing the public may not be so easy

Lobbying bill: silencing the public may not be so easy

The UK government may believe it has triumphed by overturning even the House of Lords’ modest amendments to the Lobbying Bill. When this becomes law, it will gravely damage democracy and human rights. But defenders of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association will not give up easily.

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 I does little to make lobbying more transparent but undermines voluntary organisations and trade unions instead.

If you run a huge corporation, you can afford to make sizeable donations to political parties, arrange for in-house lobbyists to meet ministers and top officials, even place staff to work in relevant government departments at no cost. Policies can be written, and laws passed, to further your business interests.

Suppose, however, that you are an ordinary person, not particularly rich or well-connected, whose home was flooded. You might get together with people in a similar situation to share information and views and demand speedier relief, better flood defences and environmental policies to reduce the risk of future floods. This may include asking all candidates for public office in your area to be upfront about what they intend to do to tackle these problems.

Because so many people share your concerns, together you might raise enough funds to get your voices widely heard. But if you are not careful, under the new law you could end up being convicted of a crime.

Likewise, if you are a trade unionist trying to stop your members in essential public services from being made redundant in large numbers, putting communities in danger, you could also be targeted.

The government has made clear its intention to govern in the interests of the few rather than the many, and its unwillingness to even pretend to listen to those it supposedly serves. But it may run into stiff resistance when it tries to enforce this new law, not only from established charities, groups and employees’ representatives but also from people who newly discover that freedoms they took for granted have been taken away.

Future attempts to use the ruling Coalition’s majority in the House of Commons to push through other repressive measures may again succeed. However, getting people to accept these passively may be impossible to achieve.

The powerful may use threats and force to get their way for a while, causing further suffering to those already facing hardship. But ultimately justice will triumph.

* More about the Lobbying Bill on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/

* Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement: http://civilsocietycommission.info

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© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare, sexuality, theology and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

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