The Independent View: Concerns about lobbying bill are not alarmist

So the pot has addressed the kettle again. Tom Brake and Chloe Smith have accused 38 Degrees of being either alarmist or scaremongering about the effects of Part 2 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Perhaps they would like to add the  famously hysterical Electoral Commission to their list of doom-mongers, as they have also expressed serious concerns.

Mr Brake and Ms Smith claim that Part 2 will save the UK from unaccountable big-spending American-style Super-PACs. No alarmism there, then – especially when the only thing preventing this horror is that non-party spending is already limited to about 5% of what parties can spend.

So why slash this to just 2%, while adding many more activities into the mix and deliberately increasing red tape for the lowest spenders – all without any consultation with those affected or the Commission? There is no clear answer anywhere in the bill documents, so it’s not surprising people are suspicious.

Further, Part 2 restricts campaigners in ways that parties would never stomach for themselves. For example, it curtails targeting, the keystone of party election wins and losses for decades. It also includes staff costs in the limit, which most parties would, apparently, find too difficult.

Leaving fairness and proper process aside, Part 2 lacks clarity. Grappling with it is like wrestling an eel – difficult, slippery and ultimately unproductive. As with the current rules, campaigns on issues like housing, abortion, and the NHS, will be covered where they dare to raise voter awareness on issues that some parties or candidates support, and some don’t, even if they name no parties or candidates.

However, it’s much harder to work out what is definitely not covered, as the Commission has pointed out. This makes for poor regulatory law, particularly when there are criminal sanctions attached. The more questions people ask, the more grey areas and unintended consequences emerge. Some of these threaten the ability of groups to campaign at all.

With the number of concerns raised by a wide range of groups, the government should have the courtesy to listen rather than dismiss, and allay these worries with amendments. Then, maybe, it would be easier to believe that its intentions are honourable.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Ros Baston is a specialist political and election solicitor. Previously she was Lead Adviser (Party and Election Finance) at the Electoral Commission. She has received no payment from 38 Degrees for writing this article.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url for Twitter and emails.


Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarBolano 13th Oct - 11:22pm
    @David Allen I think you are, if nothing's done, talking about a generation. Those who are politically engaged (i.e. who vote) have very long memories....
  • User AvatarT-J 13th Oct - 11:16pm
    Dav, geography has always been Ireland's curse, really. Of course, England could impose such economic 'suicide' on Ireland. But that would be a kind of...
  • User AvatarSIMON BANKS 13th Oct - 10:36pm
    Helen has a point. Even taking into account our limited finances, our campaign seemed diffuse and reactive. An election campaign needs to push two or...
  • User AvatarJayne Mansfield 13th Oct - 10:26pm
    @ Richard Underhill, You may be interested in a study carried out by Cardiff University and published in The Conversation. 'Hard Evidence: How biased is...
  • User AvatarJoe Otten 13th Oct - 10:20pm
    David Raw, I don't mean to be obtuse. I read your argument as saying that more needs to be spent on the NHS and welfare...
  • User AvatarLittle Jackie Paper 13th Oct - 9:59pm
    Caron - Not getting at you or anyone else here. I hear an awful lot that Scotland is some sort of pro-EU hotbed. Is it?...
Wed 14th Oct 2015
Thu 15th Oct 2015
Fri 16th Oct 2015
Sat 17th Oct 2015
Sun 18th Oct 2015
Tue 20th Oct 2015
Thu 22nd Oct 2015
Fri 23rd Oct 2015
Sat 24th Oct 2015
Sun 25th Oct 2015
Wed 28th Oct 2015
Thu 29th Oct 2015
Mon 2nd Nov 2015
Wed 4th Nov 2015
Thu 5th Nov 2015
Fri 6th Nov 2015
Sat 7th Nov 2015
Tue 10th Nov 2015