Friday, 6 September 2013

In the wrong lobby

David Cameron’s judgment has been suspect on a number of issues and you would of presumed that he – and his partner-in-arms, Nick Clegg – would have paused for thought before they pressed ahead with another measure which will make things worse and not better.

This time, it’s a Bill about lobbying. Nearly everyone, including the vast majority of the public, believes that we need to take action to regulate lobbying and make it transparent. Back in 2010, David Cameron described lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen.” In the three years since, whilst his Ministers and the Conservative Party have become mired in a series of lobbying scandals, there was silence.

Then, from nowhere, Cameron and Clegg have managed to produce a Bill that is so bad that it has achieved the unique feat of uniting transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry against it. Only they could produce a Bill which wouldn’t stop lobbyist Lynton Crosby – whose company has been paid a fortune by the tobacco companies to lobby on their behalf - from advising them about tobacco policy, but could stop an organization like Cancer UK from campaigning about it.

Local charities and organisations could have their voices gagged. So, student bodies might be prevented from campaigning about the Liberal Democrat broken promise on tuition fees; parent groups could be restricted from campaigning about the local costs of childcare; or community groups could be hindered in their campaigns about a local library or Surestart centre.

Charities, community groups and other organisations play a huge part in our national and local democracy. It doesn’t matter if we agree or disagree with what they say – that’s all part of a healthy democracy.

This Bill is an attempt to gag charities and other campaigners. The National Association of Voluntary Organisations is coordinating opposition from a wide range of national charities. Local charities and community groups might want to add their voice before it is too late.