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An Outrageous Attack on Democracy

August 24, 2013

An open letter to:

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Dear Lord Lester


Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14

I am writing to you to ask you to try to ensure that the above Bill is given adequate scrutiny in the House of Lords. Although you are listed as a Liberal Democrat peer, I feel sure you will agree that this is a constitutional issue and that I can rely on you to approach it from a non partisan point of view.

As you are probably aware this Bill is scheduled to receive its second reading in the Commons on 3rd September. It will then be considered by a committee of the whole House, this being scheduled to complete on 11th September. I fear that it will pass through the House of Commons unaltered; much depends on what the Lords make of it.

I have not had time to read the Bill, but according to Liberal Conspiracy ,

The Bill [makes] three changes to the regulation of campaigning by non-party organisations in the 12 months before a general election – breaching these will become a criminal offence:

  • Changing the definition of what counts as campaigning – at present only activities designed with the intent of influencing an election result are regulated. The new Bill will instead regulate activity that may affect the result of an election. As any criticism of government policy could affect how people vote, this will severely limit any organisation’s ability to criticise government policies in the run up to an election – not just unions, but charities, NGOs and local campaign groups.
  • Reducing the spending limit for third party campaigners to £390,000 – the amount that third party campaign groups can spend in the year before an election will be reduced by more than half to £390,000.
  • Including staff time and office costs in expenditure limits – currently only the costs of election directed materials, adverts and activities are regulated. The Bill proposes that staff time and other costs should now also be included in the limit. £390,000 may buy a lot of leaflets but any major event involves significant staff time.”

It is surely a basic democratic principle that voters are entitled to judge a government on its record. Mainstream media for various reasons do not always present a complete and balanced picture of issues, and non partisan campaigns are needed to present an alternative point of view. It is argued that these expenditure limits are far too tight for effective campaigns given the resources devoted to ‘spin’ by government and corporate lobbyists.

Presumably there is some provision to avoid retrospective application of the law. It is not impossible that 55% of MPs could vote to dissolve parliament early. In the context of the current coalition for example, if enough Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers judged that the government had so upset Middle England that it was in the interests of both parties to bring down the government, it could be done.

yours sincerely
David H Smith


From → Democracy

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