There is some disagreement as to the precise impact the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill is likely to have.
This reassurance offered by the Cabinet Office doesn’t seem fully clear or convincing.
The Cabinet Office said the bill would not prevent charities campaigning for policies supported by political parties, but would affect only activities carried out “for election purposes”.
A spokesman added: “The intention is to bring greater transparency where third parties campaign in a way which supports a particular political party or its candidates.”
Here are three perspectives by representatives of groups who fear their activities will be severely constrained by the bill. The first comes from Nick Lowles:
The HOPE not hate campaign is a registered third party with the Electoral Commission and fully compliant with all the associated regulatory requirements. In the 2010 General Election HOPE not hate spent £319,231 campaigning against the BNP. This figure was well within the financial cap in place.
Just a day before Parliament broke for the summer recess, the Government published the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. The majority of the media coverage has focused on parts one and three of the bill (focusing on lobbying and trade union administration). However it is within part Two, which covers third party engagement in elections, that many of the most fundamental changes are proposed.
In the past only those organisations directly involved in engaging in the elections had to register as a Third Party with the Electoral Commission. Under these new proposals every organisation which seeks to influence public opinion, in the 12 months before the General Election – either directly or as a consequence of its actions – will now be covered. This will include charities, think tanks, trade associations and even blogs and websites.
Here Sebastian Payne, writing in the Spectator, speculates on the possible effects on some political bloggers.
Is the Lobbying Bill another erratic attempt to censor bloggers? In a similar fashion to the Crime and Courts Act, which almost put blogs under the same umbrella as newspapers for fines, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill has potential implications for charities and ‘third sector’ groups, not just political parties and bog standard lobbyists.
As Mark Ferguson pointed out on LabourList, any campaigning classed as ‘political’ in an election year will be subject to a £32,000 limit, more paperwork and potentially, permission from a political party to actually take place if they exceed that limit.This new regime, unless clearly defined in the bill, could affect political blogs. Not necessarily due to their funding, but because some bloggers write primarily about the ongoings of a particular party, which could be classed as campaigning. This would give Ed Miliband the power to shut down LabourList, orDavid Cameron to ConservativeHome, if he took a dislike to their coverage. The same goes for Nick Clegg and LibDemVoice.
Finally here’s Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, describing the likely impact on trade unions, the aspect of the bill which has received most coverage.
Our congress will not just take the TUC over the third-party limit, it would also criminalise all our affiliated trade unions. This is because when two or more organisations co-operate their spending is all added together and then counts against each of their individual limits.
We would not be able to organise the national demonstration for jobs and fair wages that the TUC is planning next year if it falls 12 months before the election as, again, the joint costs of everyone participating will easily exceed the limit. Our anti-austerity message has never been party-political, but there can be no doubt that we disagree with the economic strategy of the current government. Such dissent will be criminalised.
It is hard to know whether everyone in government intends this bill to be so draconian. I certainly do not believe that the Lib Dems could knowingly have signed up to such illiberal proposals.