Gagging law: public meeting in Brent

Public Meeting in Brent

Last Friday lunchtime, 38 Degrees members came to the Royal Oak in Harlesden to ask their MP Sarah Teather why she had voted with the government on the gagging law.

Any concerns I had about how many people would turn up in the middle of the day were allayed when people started coming through the door for the pre-meeting; in fact nearly everyone who attended the meeting came early to have their questions about the bill answered. This would be a smaller public meeting than other constituencies, but it was certainly a passionate and well-informed one.

Maddy Carroll from 38 Degrees chaired the panel which also included Ruth Smeeth from Hope Not Hate. Sarah Teather opened by saying that she shared many of her constituents’ concerns about the first draft of the Bill, but felt that changes made before the third reading effectively returned matters to the status quo.

Ruth Smeeth responded to this with plenty of concrete examples of how the gagging law would limit Hope Not Hate’s activities. As the meeting moved into a question-and-answer session, it became clear that 38 Degrees members’ concerns hadn’t been allayed either.Public Meeting in Brent

Public Meeting in Brent

Audience members asked Sarah Teather how extending the regulated period to an entire year could be seen as anything other than a limitation of campaign activities. They asked if there was any concrete evidence of the high-spending US-style campaigns that the law was supposed to be tackle being a problem here. And they asked how a bill that threatened to chill the third sector in the lead up to an election while barely touching corporate lobbying could possibly be equitable, liberal or democratic.

The meeting closed with Sarah promising to read the Electoral Commission’s new advice and look at any amendments that came out of the House of Lords. She was certainly left under no illusion about her constituents’ continuing concerns about the gagging law and I’m not sure her parting shot did much to change anyone’s mind either:

“It’s not a sinister plot to gag charities… the government isn’t capable of that.”