I’m sure some Liberal Democrat members and readers of Liberal Democrat Voice will have recently received a rather alarmist email from 38 Degrees claiming that the Government, through the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, is attempting to stop charities and campaign groups criticising government policy.
I would like to reassure Liberal Democrat Voice readers that 38 Degrees have rather regrettably misrepresented and exaggerated the effect and intent of the bill. We are doing nothing of the sort.
What the relevant section of the bill is designed to do is stop our political system going the way of America’s – where wealthy and unaccountable millionaires can spend small fortunes, outside the formal political parties, trying to deliver specific electoral outcomes through so-called “Super-PACs” and alike. Something I would have thought 38 Degrees and their email list would want to support.
Chloe Smith, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform who is leading on this bill, explains in detail here why the concerns of 38 Degrees are unfounded.
But in short this bill is only designed to restrict, to within reasonable bounds, those who are trying to influence the electoral outcome by supporting or encouraging support for a party or candidate. It is absolutely not going to restrict charities or campaign groups campaigning to change public policy.
Civic society and the role it plays in our public life is hugely valued by Liberal Democrats and we would not be putting forward a bill that curtailed that. But I make no apology for a bill that seeks to prevent big, opaque and unaccountable money wielding undue influence over our political system.
* Tom Brake is Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and the Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesman