Aug 22nd, 2013
38 Degrees under threat
By Rebecca Falcon
38 Degrees is facing its biggest ever threat.
The government’s rushing through a new law which, if it passes, will stop us running the type of campaigns which have made us who we are. The campaigns which have saved our forests, fought privatisation in the NHS, and defeated the snoopers’ charter. The campaigns which have seen 1.7 million of us act together, locally and nationally, for over four years. In fact, if the new law passes, and we continue campaigning as we do now, the office team could even risk being sent to jail.
The law’s called the ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’. And if it goes through without any changes, it’ll wipe out our campaigning by slashing what we can spend during the year before elections. Not just general elections, either. Local elections, European elections and referendums, too.
But if we act now and we act together, we could make the government reverse their plan. Chloe Smith, the minister responsible for pushing this law through parliament, is coming under more and more pressure to re-think. If hundreds of thousands of us speak up now, we could swing her decision.
Can you email Chloe Smith now to tell her why it’s important that we’re able to campaign during elections, and what you think of her plans to stifle us? There’s no template email, because it’s really important that Chloe Smith hears your personal reasons for being a member of 38 Degrees. Anything you write to her now is better than her not hearing from us at all.
People power is at the heart of 38 Degrees. We don’t spend too much, but our campaigns do cost money. Without being able to spend – employing staff, buying billboards, or printing leaflets about where politicians stand on local issues – we just won’t be able to make the issues which matter to us all, like the NHS and fair taxation, top of the agenda at the next election.
The three main political parties have a combined membership of around 433,000. There are 1.7 million of us. Per member, the parties would be able to spend over £130 – 38 Degrees would be able to spend around 23p. Put simply, this will make it hard to influence the next election, and every one after that.
It’s not clear whether this law is just badly written, or if the government is simply fed up of being criticised – but it’s a huge threat. And it doesn’t only affect us: from big charities to tiny single-issue campaigns, the sector is scared and furious.
The government’s trying to slip this through with as little fuss as possible. Not only did they introduce it on the day before MPs knocked off for the summer, they also tied it into a whole raft of other new rules on lobbying. And some of the new rules, like the register of lobbyists, are things we’ve been pushing for, although they’re not yet strong enough. We still hope to campaign for tighter controls on dodgy lobbying – but before that, we have to fight to make sure we’re not silenced during elections.
It’s a really worrying time. The potential impact of this law is only just becoming clear. The Cabinet Office says it won’t affect us. But experts we’ve spoken to, from lawyers to charity chiefs, are telling us it will. This threatens the entire way 1.7 million of us campaign together.
It’s not just us. Amazing people-powered campaigns like HOPE not hate’s fight against the BNP in Barking and Dagenham, or Make Poverty History, just wouldn’t be possible during election periods. Right when ordinary people should be able to have the most impact.
It’s no exaggeration to say this law will make it easier for registered political parties like the BNP to campaign without challenge.
The government’s doing its best to rush this law through without consultation or feedback. If we act together now, we can let them know that 38 Degrees is more than just a name – we’re a movement of 1.7 million people committed to campaigning for a better, fairer Britain. We won’t remain silent while they try to stop us.
Can you email Chloe Smith here? Our movement may depend on it.
PS: These proposals are complicated, and a lot of the detail still isn’t clear. The office team doesn’t have all the answers – we’re still talking to experts and other organisations. In the meantime, we’ve done our best to provide some clarity in the Frequently Asked Questions and Notes sections below.
What should I write to Chloe Smith?
Perhaps you could tell her about the first email you wrote to an MP, or the first meeting you attended with other 38 Degrees members. Or perhaps why you think charities, campaigning groups and movements like ours which help people do these things should not be restricted?
Or you could explain your concerns about what could happen if we couldn’t campaign together against the privatisation of the NHS, or against parties such as the BNP? Or – you could just tell her why you’re a member of 38 Degrees.
What are the proposals called, and where can I read more about them?
The plans are called the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. You can read the Bill documents and watch the progress of the legislation here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration/documents.html
How will it affect our campaigning?
Since the proposals were published, the office team have been meeting with experts and other organisations to discuss the impact of these rules on our campaigning. They’ve indicated that although a lot of the detail is still unclear, they believe the risks to our campaigning are huge.
The law the government has put forward will very strictly limit spending on campaigning during the year before an election. And whereas current limits only count the costs of campaign materials, the new rules would include nearly everything campaigners do, e.g. staff time, travel, and media work. The new limits could stop us from being able to run billboards, or to mobilise in the way that we have during our successful campaigns to save our forests and stop the snoopers’ charter.
What happens if 38 Degrees breaks the rules?
Breaking the rules on spending is a criminal offence. Ultimately, there’s a chance that members of the office team could be sent to jail if the rules were broken. Other organisations are facing the same threat, meaning that the ‘chilling’ effect on campaigning by charities and groups across the country is likely to be huge.
What do other groups think?
There’s widespread frustration. Charities and voluntary organisations are coming together to fight against the plans.
The National Council of Voluntary Organisations and HOPE not hate are just two of the organisations which have already spoken out publicly about the proposals.
Read NCVO’s statement here: http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2013/08/18/transparency-of-lobbying-bill-unintended-consequences-or-trojan-horse/
And HOPE not hate’s here: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/article/2976/the-government-is-trying-to-gag-hope-not-hate
Why is the government doing this?
No one’s certain. Some people are saying that a lot of this is unintended, and just bad, rushed drafting – but we’ve heard that before during our Section 75 campaign. Others say that it suits the coalition parties to silence campaigning organisations who have run campaigns which have caused them embarrassment in the past – such as the NUS’ tuition fees campaign and The Royal British Legion’s Armed Forces Covenant campaign. And of course, our campaign to save the NHS. Some think it’s because some MPs don’t even believe charities should be able to campaign for policy change which relates to their charitable objectives.
What else can we do?
The office team will be working hard over the next few days and weeks planning what we can do to help save our movement as we know it. If you have any ideas, please get in touch and let us know your thoughts by emailing email@example.com