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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Tory Gagging Bill is passed


Despite a massive campaign of resistance, the Tories managed to pass what has become commonly known as "the gagging bill". I prefer to refer to it as "The Protection of Corporate Lobbying and Silencing of Legitimate Debate bill" because that is precisely what it is. The mainstream corporate press have played along with the government by continually referring to it as the "lobbying bill", despite the fact that the majority of the lobbying industry will remain entirely unaffected by it. Essentially the bill protects in-house corporate lobbying operations from any kind of official scrutiny, meaning that a cloak of secrecy will still shroud their influence upon our politicians.

The fact that the so-called "lobbying bill" does so little to regulate the activities of corporate lobbyists isn't even the worst of it. The truly appalling part is the extensive second section of the bill which is clearly designed to silence critics of the government such as charities, voluntary organisations, protest groups, trade unions and religions (
(which despite the bile from the obnoxious anti-theist ranter brigade, have done much good work in promoting social justice).

The intention to use this new legislation in order to revoke the freedom of speech of organisations that criticise government policy was made absolutely clear by the language used by Iain Duncan Smith in his tirade against the Trussell Trust food bank group earlier in January.
 

Liz Hutchins, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said it was "a bad day for anyone wanting to protect the environment, save a hospital or oppose tuition fees" and Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) said that "We must be clear: civil society must never lose its voice. We must stand up for our beliefs and refuse self-censorship. ACEVO will work tirelessly to ensure that this Bill does not gag charities and campaigners". Others have noted that this bill will impose a massive regulatory burden on charities and voluntary organisations, which is yet another demonstration that David Cameron's "Big Society" is a hoax. If the Tories actually wanted a "Big Society" there is absolutely no way they would be nailing charities and voluntary organisations down with such burdensome and illiberal legislation.

The bill was passed on the 28th of January 2014 after government ministers carefully unpicked the amendments made to it by the House of Lords in exactly the same was as they crippled the Lords amendments to another piece of disgustingly illiberal legislation last year - the bill which led to the creation of Secret Courts in which the defendant can be found guilty in a courtroom that they are not allowed to enter, on charges that they are not allowed to know, based upon evidence that they are not allowed to see.

The Liberal Democrat complicity in this cannot be underestimated. Just as with the Secret Courts legislation in 2013, without their votes this grotesquely illiberal gagging legislation could never have been passed into law. The fact that this political party still continues to refer to itself using the word "Liberal" is as Orwellian as the decision to continually refer to this legislation as a "lobbying bill", when its primary purpose is quite clearly to silence legitimate political debate.

In my view it would be utterly foolish to rely upon the New Labour party to repeal the "The Protection of Corporate Lobbying and Silencing of Legitimate Debate bill" because should they win the next election, the meaning of the legislation changes from "mustn't criticise the Tory government" to "mustn't criticise the Labour government". 


It would clearly be in the interests of the New Labour administration to keep the bill, in order to keep some of their own critics at bay. If there are any red tribalists reading this that are disinclined to accept this interpretation, why not have a little think about how much of Thatcherism the New Labour party repealed between 1997 and 2010? That's right, they didn't just "not repeal" the right-wing neoliberalisation of the UK economy that happened under 18 years of Tory rule, they spent their 13 years in power actively continuing the neoliberalisation agenda in all kinds of ways, such as the deregulation of the financial sector (that led to the 2007-08 financial sector insolvency crisis), the privatisation of the Bank of England, blasting countless billions on botched PFI economic alchemy schemes, turning a blind eye to tax-dodging and kicking open the doors to the privatisation of the NHS, Royal Mail, the education system, the social security system and the justice system.

What now?

One possibility is that mass non-compliance with the rules will render them literally unenforceable. If charities, voluntary organisations, protest groups, trade unions and religions all refuse to comply with the regulatory burdens of the legislation, what can the Tories actually do about it? Perhaps they could set about stripping dozens of charities of their charitable status, banning voluntary organisations, attempting to shut down protest websites like 38 Degrees, outlawing trade unions and boarding up churches - but this kind of totalitarianism would surely be a PR disaster for the party.

If the Tories attempt to enforce the rules on a few specific organisations (such as the Trussell Trust - which is clearly in Iain Duncan Smith's line of fire) there is the distinct possibility that they will end up drawing far more publicity to the cause they are trying to censor than had they just left things as they were and simply accepted that some organisations will inevitably decide to criticise some government policies.

One thing is for sure: The Tory gagging legislation will not be applied to the corporate controlled mainstream press, and whilst charities and protest groups are gagged from criticising government policy, the cheerleaders of neoliberalism in the right-wing press (the Murdoch empire, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, the Express etc) will be allowed to continue spewing their brazenly biased Tory party propaganda.

The fact that the Tories will never silence their attack dogs in the corporate mainstream press presents dissenting groups with a potential loophole. If they declare themselves media organisations, or direct their criticisms of the government through media outlets such as their own newspapers, magazines or websites, the Tories would be forced to bring in draconian press regulation in order to shut them up.


Conclusion

In conclusion, this is extremely disheartening stuff. Despite the best efforts of the charitable sector, the Tory led government have brought in legislation designed to silence their critics. The 28th of January 2014 was yet another victory for authoritarianism over libertarianism. The country is once again a little bit less free than it was before.

The only ray of hope is that this legislation is so poorly conceived that it is doomed to failure. The best way to test this is through mass non-compliance, however, it may only take the bravery of a few organisations to turn this legislation against those that conceived it by ensuring that the Tory attempts to silence their critics backfire spectacularly by drawing far more publicity to the dissenting organisation than simply letting them alone would have.

    
 
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Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive "I'm Above the Law" legislation
                  
The JP Morgan vision for Europe
         
Secret Courts and the very illiberal democrats
                                          
Iain Duncan Smith's tirade against the Trussell Trust
                                            

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