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Dec 9th, 2013

Gagging law petition hand-ins across the country

By Robin Priestley

38 Degrees members up and down the length of the UK have been visiting their MPs to hand in a copy of the gagging law petition.  Over 100 petition hand in events have been organised already, with MPs of every political colour meeting their constituents to discuss the gagging law.  To find out if there is a petition hand in with your MP, or to help set one up if there isn’t yet, just click here and put in your postcode.

Here are some reports and pictures from members who’ve already met their MP:

Yeovil – David Laws MP

yeovil hand in
… 25 people turned up to help me hand in the petition to David Laws – I thought I would be doing it on my own!  I attach a photo of the event.  David Laws was quite put out and unprepared by the number of people and the anger they felt and kept waffling on about campaigning in the US and how they didn’t want that to happen here etc. and that the bill was about controlling campaign expenditure so that  in effect buy the election cannot be brought.  Many members of the crowd expressed their anger to DL at this bill.  DL said that the bill was not aimed at charities and campaigning organisations like 38degrees.  It was all very interesting and very heartening.  I had no idea so many other people in the sleepy little market town of Ilminster, Somerset agreed with me.  So thank you for the opportunity!  I collected the email addresses of everyone at the meeting so that I can thank them and David Laws wants to write to us all!  It was surprising and very satisfying to be in a crowd who all felt the same way …

38 Degrees member Ry

Bambury – Tony Baldry MP

Various people from different ages, backgrounds & political affiliation went to see Tony Baldry today to hand in a petition to pause or scrap the Government’s controversial gagging law, soon due for its 3rd Reading. One petitioner wore an elastoplast over her mouth to symbolise the gagging we fear will result from the passing of this bill. Mr. Baldry arrived just on time but did not want to go indoors to his office as he deemed there were too many people to accommodate. When asked if he would answer our questions he curtly refused, saying the appointment was booked for a petition hand over & nothing else.

However, his opening statement, assuring us that the proposed bill did not, in fact, gag anyone was met with disbelief & we asked him questions relating to his stand on the bill, & his voting record. We asked him to lobby the Lords as well as the Commons to at least pause to consider the wording of the bill as we felt it was too vague & open to a very elastic interpretation. Mr. Baldry then became quite agitated & said he was surprised that any of his constituents could be against a bill restricting the amount of money third parties could contribute to a political party’s election campaign & that we were being undemocratic. We responded that democracy was what we cared about, not money & asked again why the bill had been rushed through with no consultation of the groups affected by the proposed legislation, why he would not respond to various government & non-government bodies that have been severely critical of the way in which it has been drafted & the uncertainty it would create. Unfortunately, he could do nothing more than repeat himself, accusing us again of undemocratic behaviour.

We tried again to get a commitment to action asking him to at least read the report by the Commission on Civil Society & Democratic Engagement on Non-Party Campaigning Ahead Of Elections which we presented to him on behalf of 38 Degrees, along with a petition signed by 118,179 people (“not all MY constituents ha, ha” he quipped). Mr. Baldry seemed in a hurry to depart & gathered up his bags & scurried off after only 12 minutes of our allotted 30 minutes time.

The general feeling was that Mr. Baldry had already made up his mind (or his whip had) but we hoped that the size of the petition & the arguments therein might just give him pause for thought.

38 Degrees member Ian 

Maida Vale & North Kensington – Karen Buck MP

Attached is a photo of a group handing over the petition to Karen Buck, MP for Maida Vale and N Kensington, today.

She was very receptive, described the bill as a pile of rubbish and said it would be chucked out by the Lords. She also wanted to be sure that 38 degrees planned to hand over the petition to Parliament.

38 Degrees member Caroline 

Bristol South – Dawn Primarolo MP

Please find picture of me presenting petition to my MP Dawn Primarolo.
38 Degrees member Paul

South East Cornwall – Sheryll Murray MP

This morning I set out, petition in hand and I was at the allocated meeting place on time. I was not there long before I was met by the first person to join me. And they kept coming! I was expecting no more than 10 but half an hour later 25 concerned citizens had arrived, willing to put aside some time on their Saturday to register their disapproval to the proposed “Gagging Law”. Illness and disability were not enough to deter a couple who attended; they were determined to see their MP and demand that this proposed law should not be accepted in its current state.

I highly recommend that you take part in such and event. The people I met were and eclectic group from all parts of our society. Drawn together under a single common cause. This was not a politically united group and I have no doubt that any of the current political questions would find us happily divided.

Sheryll Murray MP was unavoidably delayed and she had a very busy schedule so maybe that was the reason that she was so dismissive. We handed her the petition and clearly articulated our objections. However she had been poorly briefed and was confused as to what or petition was for. Once she understood our cause she cited the “problems highlighted in Falkirk” and how this must be avoided in the future. We re-iterated our objection to a restriction on free speech and our concerns that even charities may be gagged. Once she understood that we were simply concerned citizens who had been pulled together by social media she dismissed us and suggested, to our horror, that we were “being manipulated”. She swept away to her next meeting while we were still spluttering in outrage.

It has been years, maybe decades since I have been so summarily dismissed. If an MP can disregard her own constituents so easily is it any surprise that the comedian Russell Brand can get so much airtime on political issues? I suspect that many of those who gave up their time to protest have been left disillusioned and humiliated by the experience. Personally, I am resolved to campaign more on this issue and also support 38 Degrees further. It seems that our MPs need to wake up to their responsibilities to their constituents. Whilst I am sure that the games in Parliament are much more entertaining for them, they definitely need to be reminded that they are not allowed to play unless we, the voters, let them!

38 Degrees member Simon

If we work together, we can make sure every MP is visited by a group of 38 Degrees members in their constituency with a copy of our massive petition against the gagging law. And if MPs are convinced their constituents are against it, they’ll be putting pressure on the government to pull the plug on the gagging law.

So could you book an appointment with your MP for 38 Degrees members in your constituency to give them the petition? All you have to do is click this link and enter your postcode. Then you’ll get their phone number and be guided through making the call.

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