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Dec 3rd, 2013

Gagging law: Eastleigh public meeting

By India Thorogood

On Friday local members in Eastleigh attended a public meeting with Mike Thornton MP on the gagging law. It was yet another example of how amazing 38 Degrees members are when they come together – with 50 impassioned people in attendance. If there’s one thing that the gagging law has done,  it’s show what people power can achieve.

On the panel were Oliver Hayes from Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Becky from 38 Degrees, with Rachael Orr from Oxfam chairing. Oliver noted that Eastleigh had a great local council and that he and Mike were often fighting for the environment alongside each other. With this considered, we all hoped that Mike would trust Oliver when he said the gagging law could having a chilling affect on FOE’s right to campaign.

Because we’d heard the same arguments from lots of MPs, Becky was able to preempt exactly what Mike would say! He said that the law would protect Caroline Lucas from fracking companies throwing money into a campaign to unseat her. At which point, Becky could pull out a picture of Caroline attending our anti-gagging law protest – would she have protested and voted against the law if  Mike was right?

During the meeting, local people seemed confused about Mike’s position on the Bill . “I received your three page letter on the Bill” said one “and I thought you were against the Bill!” By the end of the meeting, even Mike wasn’t quite as sure of his position. He was starting each sentence with ‘in my opinion’ or ‘in my understanding’ – implying there is room for a change of  opinion!

Oliver was able to outline how the law would affect Friends of the Earth, but local people were also worried about their campaigns too. A member of Eastleigh Older Persons Forum described how one of their campaigns was supported by the local Labour party and Conservatives. Under the gagging law, this could be seen as promoting candidates and could be restricted.

“Why have charities been brought into this at all? Why can’t the Bill target companies and rich individuals?” asked one audience member. At this point Mike emphasised that the Liberal Democrats want to tackle the funding of political parties. He personally worried about the power of individuals like Lord Ashcroft. Had they won the election, they would do things differently, but they are a “junior coalition partner”.

One 38 Degrees member was really frustrated that this was our priority campaign, however the panel explained that none of them wanted to be doing this. Rachael from Oxfam said she’d rather be campaigning on poverty, and it’s sad that the gagging law is taking her away from her really, really important job.

And if MPs like Mike could just support fixing or scrapping the gagging law Rachael could get back to fighting poverty. Olivercould concentrate on  tackling climate change and Becky standing up for the NHS, or forests, or anything that 38 Degrees want to!

Mike said “If anyone thinks I would support a Bill that would limit Friends of the Earth then you don’t know who I am!”  Let’s keep the pressure up so Mike doesn’t do just that.

Were you at the meeting – do you think Mike will change his view? What next for the campaign in Eastleigh?

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