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Oct 10th, 2013

Gagging Law: next stop The House of Lords

By 38 Degrees team

Yesterday evening, MPs narrowly voted in favour of the gagging law. It now moves to the House of Lords, where it will start being debated in two weeks.

So we haven’t yet seen off this threat to democracy. This is disappointing – I’d love to be emailing today to let you know we’d stopped it once and for all. But it’s in no sense the end. By making the vote so close, we’ve got a strong chance of reversing it in the House of Lords.

I wanted to update you on what’s happened and what happens next. And I wanted to ask for your feedback on what we should do next. But above all I wanted to say THANK YOU, for everything that 38 Degrees members have done so far. It’s been truly amazing and has had a huge impact.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in response – please just hit reply on this email, keeping the subject line the same. I will work with the rest of the office team to read through your thoughts over the next few days.

So, what’s happened so far?

There was a fiery debate and a big rebellion in parliament yesterday. Only Lib Dem and Conservative MPs voted in favour. In total, across three crunch votes, it looks like 19 coalition MPs rebelled.

To get 19 Lib Dem and Conservative MPs to vote against the gagging law was thanks in no small part down to the amazing efforts of 38 Degrees members. Working together with some of Britain’s most loved voluntary organisations, we made sure every MP felt under pressure.

Several more Lib Dem MPs rebelled this time round – after 38 Degrees members ramped up the pressure on them. The leaflets, posters, and meetings made a clear difference.

I have found it incredibly inspiring to see everything 38 Degrees members have done on this campaign. Thousands of us have come together to defend free speech. All across the UK, 38 Degrees members have been defending our right to get organised and speak up on the issues that matter to us. Here are just a few of the things I’ve seen:

Over a quarter of a million e-mails, phone calls and tweets to local MPs
Over 100 face-to-face meetings with MPs
Over £120,000 raised to fund leaflets, adverts and events
A brilliant rally outside Parliament on Tuesday, where 38 Degrees members joined supporters of dozens of other groups to stand up for free speech (have a look at some lovely photos of that here)

Last Friday, I sat at the back of a public meeting about the gagging law called by Tom Brake MP. He’s one of the Lib Dem ministers pushing the gagging law through. The 38 Degrees members were fantastic – I watched them put Tom Brake on the spot with searching questions and powerful arguments. He looked increasingly shifty and irritated as the evening went on.

I felt so proud to be part of a network that stands up for the truth and refuses to be fobbed off by those in power!

Chatting to 38 Degrees members after that event gave me a powerful reminder of what is at stake with this campaign. There is so much going wrong with our democracy. Political parties aren’t trusted. Politicians are too often in it for themselves or the big business. Corporate lobbyists have way too much influence.

We need independent organisations, voluntary groups, campaign groups like 38 Degrees, to give ordinary people a voice.

So, what will happen next?

In the coming weeks, the gagging law will be voted on by the House of Lords. We need to try to persuade the Lords to get stuck in and block it. I think we can do it.

There are also reasons why convincing the Lords won’t be that easy:

The Lords are unelected. So we can’t try to influence them “as their voters” in the way we can with MPs.
A large number of peers are Lib Dems or Conservatives – and they will be under pressure from their party bosses to toe the government line.

But there are also some reasons to be optimistic:

The Lords tends to be more willing to challenge government legislation when it has been rushed through and where there hasn’t been proper consultation. That definitely applies this time!
Many peers are patrons and board members of voluntary organisations and charities which would be hit by the gagging law. This means they should have reason to be concerned.
An independent “commission on civil society and democracy” has been set up with the support of dozens of voluntary organisations – and will provide the Lords with serious recommendations. It is chaired by an influential, nonparty Lord – Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford.
38 Degrees members learnt a lot about how to influence members of the House of Lords from our NHS campaign last year.

So, there will be a lot to do over the next couple of months. I would love to hear your thoughts on how we approach on this – please just hit reply to this e-mail, leaving the subject line the same. I’m planning to spend a couple of days reading through the suggestions.

There’s so much I’d appreciate feedback on. What extra information would you like to be receiving? Is the office sending you too many emails, or not enough? Is it time to start ramping up other campaigns again e.g. fracking, NHS, zero hours? What should we do next to influence the House of Lords?

Looking forward to hearing from you – and once again, thank you for all you’re doing.

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