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Oct 28th, 2013

Gagging law meeting with Simon Wright MP

By India Thorogood

At 7.30pm on Friday, over 200 of you came to hear Simon Wright MP and other speakers debate the controversial gagging law. Thank you!

During the evening, an audience member pointed out that political parties didn’t often attract such large audiences as this one. When party membership is so low, its really important those who aren’t part of a political party have their voice heard in the run up to an election.

David Babbs was on the panel to represent 38 Degrees, Andrew Taylor from People and Planet and Rosie Rawle from the University of East Anglia (UEA) Student’s Union. The opening statements often mentioned how worrying it was that charities and campaigners could be disempowered, when political parties were so out of favour.

Rosie, the UEA’s Communications Officer, said that students weren’t necessarily interested in parties, yet across her campus they were campaigning on issues. The gagging law could have a clear impact on the NUS she said – a charity that was already having to watch what it said. Rosie ended her speech by saying just like with tuition fees, she’d like Simon to promise to “vote against and campaign against it at at every opportunity”. Only this time, she’d like him – and his party – to keep that promise.

There were some students attending the meeting and it was great to see them have a voice – especially in a constituency with 29,000 of them! Andrew Taylor from People and Planet also talked about students in his opening speech – “the government want young people to be seen and not heard.” A very worrying thought, especially for a university City like Norwich.

Andrew Taylor said Simon’s opening speech was scarily similar to that of Chloe Smith in Norwich North. He suggested they were just reciting government briefings – and that their constituents deserved better. Both MPs used the same example to argue in favour of the gagging law – it was based around Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavillion. What if big oil companies used their money to sway her election, they said. But David was quick to point out that if the Bill was such great news for Ms Lucas, why had she voted against the Bill at every opportunity?

When it came to questions, Simon Wright talked about the Bill with a sense of regret – “I would have loved big party donations to come under this Bill” and “I regret that there wasn’t consultation earlier.”

This really concerned the members of the audience, and the panel, because unlike ordinary people Simon actually had direct power to change things. One of Simon’s constituents was really frustrated – “There is nothing about this Bill that is inevitable” said  Lee “Stop saying ‘with regret’, when you have the power to change it!” Another thought from the audience was that Simon seemed “smug and complacent” by talking about this Bill as if it was simply too late to bother.

David from 38 Degrees felt his excuses simply weren’t good enough. He argued that one of the most important parts of our democracy (the non-profit sector) cannot simply be an afterthought! “Where was the green paper? The white paper?”

At the end of the meeting, after many passionate points and questions from the audience, we all wanted to know what Simon would take from it. He said that he had come to this meeting to listen – and that was what he had done.“I’m pretty sure from what I’ve heard that this isn’t a perfect Bill” he said.

He assured his constituents that he would remember this discussion when he looked at proposed amendments to the gagging law. And with 200 of us there, I don’t think Simon will be forgetting the meeting very soon!

By coming together we showed Simon – as one constituent said on the night – “that the British people won’t be shut out of politics.”

Did you come along? What did you think of your MP’s assurances?

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