Is the Lobbying Bill another erratic attempt to censor bloggers? In a similar fashion to the Crime and Courts Act, which almost put blogs under the same umbrella as newspapers for fines, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill has potential implications for charities and ‘third sector’ groups, not just political parties and bog standard lobbyists.
As Mark Ferguson pointed out on LabourList, any campaigning classed as ‘political’ in an election year will be subject to a £32,000 limit, more paperwork and potentially, permission from a political party to actually take place if they exceed that limit.This new regime, unless clearly defined in the bill, could affect political blogs. Not necessarily due to their funding, but because some bloggers write primarily about the ongoings of a particular party, which could be classed as campaigning. This would give Ed Miliband the power to shut down LabourList, or David Cameron to ConservativeHome, if he took a dislike to their coverage. The same goes for Nick Clegg and LibDemVoice.
It’s a dangerous proposition, and the aforementioned blogs are not the only organisations concerned. The Sunday Times reported some of the charities (£) worried about the spending limits, while Political Scrapbook has revealed correspondence from the Electoral Commission last week, who are also unhappy with the bill. The leaked quote said:
‘In our view it is not at all clear how that test will apply in practice to the activities of the many third parties that have other purposes beyond political campaigning. For instance, it seems arguable that the new test could apply to many of the activities of charities, voluntary organisations, blogs, think tanks and other organisations that engage in debate on public policy’
The Lobbying Bill was brought forward by the Prime Minister to deal with the last round of dodgy lobbying revelations, but was in no way (at least publicly) an attempt to curb freedom of speech or political debate. Whether the lobbying bill will have an impact on Westminster’s healthy little blogosphere will be decided in the precise wording of who is subject to these new rules.
With the Trades Union Congress’ annual meet-up fast approaching, the consequences of the bill on trade unions will no doubt be brought into the spotlight, while the Tories are keen to push it through as quickly as possible. Graham Allen, chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, has described the bill as ‘flawed legislation’ and ‘a dog’s breakfast’, suggesting that a carefully crafted bill is unlikely. One has to hope our MPs and peers will take note and avoid stamping down on blogs, yet again.