GAGGING LAW: Public Meeting in Brighton and Hove

Last Thursday was the night of the Brighton and Hove public meeting on the gagging law.

It was one of the biggest public meetings yet, with a whopping 300 people from all parts of Brighton and Hove filling the beautiful St Mary’s Church in Kemptown to have their say on the gagging law.

Greg Hadfield, from the Brighton and Hove Independent newspaper, chaired a great debate. The speakers included Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, Ian Chisnall, a community activist and co-coordinator at Churches Together in Sussex, and Becky Jarvis from 38 Degrees.

Sadly neither Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown, or Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, made it along to hear from their voters about the gagging law. But Graham Cox, Conservative councillor for Westbourne, kindly stepped in at the last minute to speak in favour of the bill and listen to people’s questions.

And what great questions they were! Someone involved in the voluntary sector wanted to know why charities should be restricted by extra, burdensome admin. One NHS worker was worried that the bill would effectively put a stop to campaigning in support of our health service. And an audience member even received a standing ovation for his question about why specific corporate lobbyists would be left untouched by the bill.

Several people also expressed disappointment that Simon and Mike hadn’t come along to hear from their voters. But there’s no doubt that Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley will hear about the strength of feeling against the gagging law in their constituencies. Although Graham himself insisted that the bill did not pose a threat, he also said that he and the MPs were happy to listen.

A huge thank you to everyone who came along on Thursday night to stand up up for freedom of speech. Hundreds of people coming together to talk to each other, to speak up and hold their representatives to account, like what happened in St Mary’s Church last week, is exactly what democracy looks like. If you missed the meeting, or want a reminder, you can listen to a recording on the Radio Free Brighton website.

What do you think? How could the meeting have been better? Are public meetings useful? Should 38 Degrees members organise them more regularly? Post your comments below.