With the Guardian’s recent poll showing half the country is angry with politicians, you might think this isn’t the best time to introduce draconian legislation that will muzzle dissent and crack down on popular campaigning. But then again, you might also think a government that came to power promising a new “big society” might welcome robust and healthy public debate, led by a diverse range of grassroots campaigners.
Which only goes to show the extraordinary hypocrisy of the coalition in ramming through its transparency of lobbying bill (better known as the gagging bill). By imposing a quite astonishing range of requirements on campaigning organisations in the run-up to elections, it would effectively shut down legitimate voices seeking to raise awareness on issues of public interest, whether they are on NHS reform, housing policy, or wildlife conservation. Campaign spending limits for “third party” organisations – such as charities and pressure groups – would be drastically cut, and the definition of what constitutes campaigning broadened. And there would be new forms of regulation for organisations lobbying on issues at constituency level.