Gagging law: it’s over, for now.

Yesterday, the gagging law, more formally known as the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (now Act), cleared its final hurdle in Parliament. It’s now on its way to getting royal assent and becoming law.

This is a message sent from 38 Degrees Executive Director David Babbs to every single 38 Degrees member, immediately after the final two votes (on the range of activity counted towards a spending cap in any single constituency, and on whether staff costs count towards total spend) were lost in the House of Lords:

I wanted to let you know straight away. I’m afraid we lost the gagging law vote in the House of Lords this evening. That’s it – it’s going to become law.

It couldn’t have been closer. On the final vote, 245 Lords voted in favour and 245 against. Unfortunately the rules mean that in the case of a tie, the government gets its way.

Personally I feel pretty devastated about this. I’m worried about what it means for the future of 38 Degrees. More importantly, I’m worried about what it means for the future of democracy, and what it tells us about the state of British politics.

But I also feel proud of everything 38 Degrees members did together to fight this. I hope you do too.

There will be a lot of thinking and discussion to be done in the coming days. 38 Degrees members will need to pull together to think about how to fight this terrible law. And we’ll need to work out how we can keep standing up for all we believe in – despite the restrictions the government is trying to impose.

But right now, I feel sure of one thing. We won’t give up.

Sorry I’m not emailing with better news, and thank you for everything you’ve done,

David

PS: 38 Degrees members are discussing the outcome on Facebook. You can join in at https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange

Here’s some of the comments so far:

Peter: I am Spartacus. Who’s with me?

Zoë: sad news, let’s keep fighting to change it

Kirsty: The government shouldn’t even be allowed to vote on something like this…. it should be a vote left to the general public. Of course the government want us mute so this is no surprise

Peter: I strongly believe there should now be a coordinated campaign of civil disobedience. During the election campaign, all those organisations that stood against this atrocious and illiberal legislation should simply ignore it and campaign as usual. Maybe with a campaign fund set up to help defend the smaller organisations.

Liz: Gradually democracy is being eroded. The arrogance of this government is beyond belief.

Today is a difficult day. After a wonderful, uplifting, broad-based, people-powered campaign lasting six months, characterized by one of the broadest coalitions of civil society ever to work together in the UK, today the Bill is law.

But once the dust has settled, hopefully there will be as much pride as there is anger and sadness. Together, 38 Degrees members and hundreds of organisations supported by hundreds of thousands of people, made a catastrophic law better. It’s still a bad law, but here are the fixes we won:

  1. We changed potentially ruinous joint spending rules for organisations working in coalition to exclude small-spending organisations (Amd. 39)
  2. We got some costs excluded from spending that counts towards the new spending caps:
    • translation into Welsh (Amd. 44)
    • disability access (Amd. 44)
    • safety and security measures (Amd. 43)
    • NI parades (Amd. 42)
    • Volunteer costs (Amd. 44)
  3. We raised the minimum spend threshold, after which you have to register with the Electoral Commission and take on a whole lot more red tape, to £20,000 from £10,000 in England, and to £10,000 from £5,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Amd. 46)
  4. We raised the overall spending limit in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by £20,000 each, bringing the new caps there to: (Amd. 47)
    • Scotland: £55,000 (from proposed £35,000)
    • Wales: £44,000 (from proposed £24,000)
    • NI: £31,000 (from proposed £11,000)
  5. Reduced the period for which the law is applicable before the 2015 General Election from 1 year to 7.5 months (Amd. 30-35)
  6. Won a review of all the rules that apply to organisations campaiging during elections, due to happen after the 2015 General Election (Amd. 118)
  7. Got rid of proposed spending caps in individual constituencies for the time period between Parliament dissolves and the General Election happens (Amd. 53)
  8. Got rid of some of the worst new proposed red tape and reporting requirements for organisations registering with the Electoral Commission – these would have been particularly hard for small organisations with limited budgets and staff to comply with (Amd. 50 & Amd. 5)

That’s truly something to be proud of.

The exact implications of the Act on campaigning organisations and local groups across the country (and on 38 Degrees!) won’t be known until the Electoral Commission produces its guidance on how it should be implemented and enforced. There are some marshalled case studies of projected implications for organisations here.

And here’s a wonderful video of 38 Degrees members across the country meeting MPs (some of whom then switched their votes!) throughout the course of the campaign. Watch it. I defy you not to feel pride and hope.