Calderdale 38 Degrees is organising two handovers of the National 38 degrees petition against the Gagging Bill: one to Linda Riordan MP on 13th December 12.15 at Shaw Lodge. The other, to Craig Whittaker MP, took place on Sunday 8th December at 11am at Ripponden Market.
If the Gagging Bill becomes law, it will effectively outlaw civil society involvement in election campaigns and allow government to carry out a data grab on Trade Union membership – opening up the possibility of blacklisting union members.
At the Ripponden Market handover, 9 people representing Calderdale 38 degrees handed over the petition against the Gagging Bill to Craig Whittaker MP.
Craig Whittaker accepted the petition, but refused to allow the Calderdale 38 Degrees group to display their “38 degrees” poster on the photograph with him.
What was that about?
John Adams, one of those handing over the petition, writes:
“Just had a disquieting encounter with Craig Whittaker MP (Calderdale) as part of the local 38 Degrees group presenting the anti gagging law petition to local representatives. He wouldn’t allow himself to be photographed receiving the petition if the 38 Degrees logo was in the picture.
He assured me that the the law wouldn’t hamper our ability to voice concerns and then later described 38 Degrees as being ‘left wing funded’ which would mean that it could well be affected by the law.
He was not happy to discuss anything, despite the fact that he was standing in front of his Conservative Party stall at the village Xmas market. I could ask the local baker what was in her loaves, but not ask him any details about his take on Tory policies.
He was adamant that we should ‘do our research’ but if he had done his own he would know that 38 Degrees is grassroots funded with no political affiliations.
He certainly seemed agitated….. and so he should be.”
Mr Whittaker has voted for the Gagging Bill
Craig Whittaker MP was among the 83% of Tory MPs who voted against amending the bill and in favour of passing it, at the third reading stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 on the 8th October. (This is the official name of the Gagging Bill.)
If you would like to contact Mr Whittaker, here is his email address: email@example.com
Mr Whittaker was absent during the vote for the first amendment, and voted against the second amendment.
Commenting on his receipt of the petition, Craig Whittaker MP tweeted,
“I will look carefully to see whether there are any points that I have missed during the passage of the bill in the House Of Commons.”
The section of the Gagging Bill that Mr Whittaker voted for in October is part two – the section threatening free speech during election years.
The Government has just brought forward a third section, that involves a government data grab on trade union membership.
Points for Mr Whittaker to look at carefully
When questioned by their constituents, MPs who voted for the gagging bill have come up with various attempts to justify their support for the bill.
Ros Baston, an independent political law and election solicitor, has taken a look at some of the most common lines MPs have been using in response to questions from their constituents and has written a detailed document which you can read here.
Basically, pro-gagging bill MPs have been peddling four main myths:
- The new law will stop “big money” buying / influencing elections – but the way “big money” influences elections in the UK is through massive donations to political parties, and the gagging law does nothing to stop this. Millionaire party donors like Lord Ashcroft or Lord Sainsbury can continue to funnel as much cash into their chosen party as they like.
- Civil society will still be allowed to talk about issues, as long as they don’t get involved in party politics – but the gagging law would apply to campaigning on most issues that are being contested by different political parties – i.e. any big issue of the day. For example, if one political party made privatising NHS services a key part of its manifesto, then a 38 Degrees campaign against privatising the NHS would be considered ‘for election purposes’ and be subject to the gagging law. See for example this warning from doctors
- £390,000 (the limit on spending in an election year) is a lot of money. Why should organisations be allowed to spend more? – OK, £390,000 is a lot of money, but it’s only 2% of what political parties are allowed to spend, and only amounts to about £600 per constituency. And charities and campaign groups will have to include core staff costs in this limit – something political parties aren’t expected to do. Civil society groups don’t need as much money as political parties. But even so, for example 38 Degrees currently costs around £1.1 million per year to run. The money goes on maintaining a powerful and secure web site, a small office, a staff team of 15, printing leaflets and posters, hiring church halls for member meetings, and so on. That’s all funded by small donations (average donation £10.78) and reported in full in the annual audited accounts. Banning 38 Degrees from spending more than £390,000 would mean big people-powered campaigns like Save our NHS or Save our Forests would be impossible to run.
- Charities are happy now that some concessions have been promised – This isn’t true. A wide range of organisations including NCVO, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Countryside Alliance and Friends of the Earth are still warning that the gagging law will have a huge impact on what they can campaign on.
The so-called “Transparency of Lobbying Bill”, if it becomes law, will gag Trade Unions as well as all kinds of civil society groups.
Part three of the Gagging Bill is a government data grab on trade union membership
Due to public outrage, the government has put a “pause” on the process of passing the bill through Parliament. To fill the “Pause”, the government has brought forward part three of the bill – this threatens union membership confidentiality and represents a government data grab.
You can sign a purposely anonymous petition to Andrew Lansley, Lord Privy Seal, that says:
I value my right to privacy. Remove the provisions in the Lobbying Bill for full disclosure of union membership lists.
Photographer Rebecca Barray’s website is here
Updated 12/12/2013 with quote from John Adams