by Tom Morton Jan 16th, 2014
Last Friday, well over 200 people came to a public meeting organised by 38 Degrees members in Bath about the gagging law with their MP, Don Foster.
There was standing room only in the Friend’s Meeting House as concerned voters, local charities and 38 Degrees members came to quiz their MP and a panel of great speakers.
Roger James, from Oxfam South West, and Michael Carley, from Bath Against the Cuts, explained why civil society, including charities, campaigners and trade unions, are so worried about the severe restrictions the bill would impose on them. Ron Bailey, a grassroots activist who has been helping 38 Degrees members campaign against the gagging law in their local areas, stepped in for David Babbs who was sadly unwell on the day. Ron spoke about the key problems with the bill and why, even with government amendments, it still posses such a threat. Don Foster MP in his speech defended the principle of the bill, but admitted specific changes had been necessary.
But by far the most interesting part of the night was the question and answer session where the people of Bath got to have their say. There were all sorts of questions. A university student wanted to know why the spending cap includes staff costs when they aren’t included for political parties, while someone else wanted to know how the bill would affect protests. One audience member challenged Don Foster to explain why if the bill hurts corporate lobbyists they aren’t the ones complaining, whereas ordinary people and charities are. Some 38 Degrees members also pointed out that they thought he had already told them the bill was fixed some time ago, before the government amendments.
It was great that Don Foster came along to the meeting to hear these and all sorts of other concerns. Not all MPs have been willing to take part so he deserves a big thank you. As the liberal democrat chief whip, he could help pressure the government to change the bill even further so that it no longer poses a threat. That’s why it’s so great that so many people turned up to let him know what they think of the gagging law.
He was obviously impressed by the strength of feeling, saying in the Bath Chronicle the next day that “the turn-out was very, very good…There’s no doubt that the majority of the audience arrived not happy with the Bill. I hope that I was able to allay some of the fears, but I was also able to learn from them areas of concern that I think should be looked at”. Indeed, during the meeting he seemed to admit there were still more areas for improvement even after the government’s newest amendments. You can read his full comments in the newspaper here.
Thanks goes out to all those who came along on Friday and made the meeting such a success – especially those 38 Degrees members that did so much hard work organising the venue and speakers, and getting Don to come along. Here’s what Lin, one of the key organisers in Bath, said about the night:
“I have never seen such a good turn-out, there was standing room only. The people of Bath showed up in their hundreds, it seemed.
The audience was very obviously well informed and concerned about this Lobbying Bill. There was some concern over part three, which will require unions to hand over lists of their members to employers and the Government on demand, but the main thrust of the meeting was part two of the Bill, which restricts charities and non-charities who campaign on issues by imposing spending limits, and how unfair the spending limits are.
A lot of the people at the meeting thought the Bill is so riddled with danger that it should be scrapped.”
What do you think? Were you there on Friday? Do you think 38 Degrees members should organise public meetings more often? Post your comments below.