Tag: Gagging Act

Osborne criticises the government’s manifesto, while charities are silenced by ‘gagging act’

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George Osborne, the architect of many an omnishambolic budget, has called the Conservative manifesto “the most disastrous in recent history” in a suprisingly critical editorial

The London Evening Standard derided the Tories’ campaign attempt to launch a “personality cult” around the prime minister. Osborne attacked Theresa May’s handling of Brexit as marred by “high-handed British arrogance”.  He said the campaign had “meandered from an abortive attempt to launch a personality cult around May to the self-inflicted wound of the most disastrous manifesto in recent history”.

He has already mocked May’s net migration target as “economically illiterate” and branded Brexit a “historic mistake” since becoming the London paper’s editor.

The editorial then mockingly suggested the current conversation among Downing Street aides would likely be along the lines of: “Honey, I shrunk the poll lead.”

The Evening Standard has also criticised the government’s manifesto meltdown over the  highly unpopular “dementia tax”, saying: “Just four days after the Conservative manifesto proposals on social care were announced, Theresa May has performed an astonishing U-turn, and bowed in the face of a major Tory revolt over plans to increase the amount that elderly homeowners and savers will pay towards their care in old age. 

There will now be a cap on the total care costs that any one individual faces. The details are still sketchy but it is not encouraging that the original proposals were so badly thought through.” 

In another article titled U-turn on social care is neither strong nor stable”, it says: “Current Tory leaders should have been ready to defend their approach. Instead we had a weekend of wobbles that presumably prompted today’s U-turn. The Pensions Secretary Damian Green was unable to answer basic questions in a TV interview about who will lose their fuel payments, and how much extra money will go into social care.

“Either the Government is prepared to remove these payments from millions of pensioners who are not in poverty, and don’t receive pension credit, and spend their substantial savings on social care; or they chicken out, target the tiny percentage of pensioners who are on higher tax rates, save paltry sums and accept the whole manoeuvre is a gimmick. Certainly, if the savings are to pay for a new care cap, then many pensioners will lose their winter fuel payment. This isn’t for consultation after an election — it’s an issue of honesty before an election.”

With the Tories’ poll lead diminishing, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has warned that the proposed “dementia tax” would become May’s version of the poll tax which led to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.

Whilst Osborne is free to speak his mind, it’s an irony that many charities have complained they have been silenced from criticising the Conservative social care plans despite the fact they will be hugely damaging to elderly and disabled people across the country.

One chief executive of a major charity in the social care sector has told the Guardian that they felt “muzzled” by the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill – a controversial legislation introduced in 2014  which heavily restricts organisations from intervening on policy during an election period.

The charity said May’s decision to means test winter fuel allowance would “inadvertently” result in some of the poorest pensioners in the country losing the support, adding that “will literally cost lives”.

The charity also claimed that the so-called “dementia tax” on social care in the home would stop people who need support from seeking it.

“We are ready to speak out at one minute past midnight on 9 June,” the charity leader added, but stressed they were too afraid to do so now.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who runs the Charity Futures thinktank but previously led Acevo, an umbrella organisation for voluntary organisations, said it was notable how quiet his sector had been about the policy.

He went on to say: “The social care proposals strike at the heart of what charities do but they should be up in arms about them but it hasn’t happened. It is two problems: there is the problem of the so-called “gagging act”, but also the general climate of hostility towards charities means there is a lot of self censorship.” 

“Charities that once would have spoken out are keeping quiet and doing a disservice to their beneficiaries. They need to get a bit of a grip.” 

He cited the example of the Prime Minister hitting out at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a “humanitarian crisis” in hospitals and ambulance services.

May accused the organisation of making comments that were “irresponsible and overblown”.

It’s not the only time the Conservatives have tried to gag charities for highlighting the dire impacts of Tory policies. In 2014, MPs reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, too. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?

'Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty' tweeted Oxfam
Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.

The Oxfam campaign that sent the Conservatives into an indignant rage and to the charity watchdog to complain was an appeal to ALL political parties to address growing poverty. Oxfam cited some of the causes of growing poverty in the UK, identified through research (above).

Tory MP Priti Patel must have felt that the Conservatives are exempt from this appeal, due to being the architects of the policies that have led to a growth in poverty and inequality, when she said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”

I’m wondering when concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”. That comment alone speaks volumes about the attitudes and prejudices of the Conservatives.

Bubb said: “That was a warning shot. So many charity leaders do feel that if they do speak out there will be some form of comeback on them. The Charity Commission has been notably absent in defending charity rights to campaign – the climate has been hostile to the charity voice.” 

There is some fear that charities face a permanent “chilling effect” after the Electoral Commission said they must declare any work that could be deemed political over the past 12 months to ensure they are not in breach of the Lobbying Act. 

Another senior figure also said charities were too afraid to speak out on the social care proposals. “We are all scared of the lobbying act and thus most of us are not saying much during the election. There was the same problem in the EU referendum – if you criticise the government then you are being “political”.

During the referendum a row broke out after the Charity Commission
issued guidelines that some charities interpreted as preventing them from making pro-EU arguments. 

Head of the organisation, William Shawcross, dismissed the charge by Margaret Hodge MP that his Euroscepticism was to blame for the issuing of the advice from the commission on when charities could intervene on the issue.

Steve Reed, shadow minister for civil society, said the Labour party would scrap the lobbying act because it had “effectively gagged” charities.

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

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“We are moving Britain from a high welfare, high tax economy, to a lower welfare, lower tax society.”

George Osborne, 8 July 2015

The pro-wealthy and anti-humanist budget indicates clearly that the Conservatives are preoccupied with highlighting and cutting the state cost of sustaining the poorest citizens rather than the costs of subsidising the rich.

I’ve pointed out before that the Conservatives operate a perverse, dual logic: that wealthy people need support and encouragement – they are offered substantial financial incentives – in order to work and contribute to the economy, whereas poor people apparently need to be punished – by the imposition of financial cuts – in order to work and contribute to the economy.

That Osborne thinks it is acceptable to cut the lifeline benefits of sick and disabled people to pay for government failures, whilst offering significant cuts to corporation tax rates; raising the tax-free personal allowance and extending inheritance tax relief demonstrates very clearly that the myth of trickle-down is still driving New Right Conservative ideology, and that policy is not based on material socio-economic conditions and public need. (And Cameron is not a one-nation Tory, despite his claims.)

Research by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 indicates that wealth of the very wealthy does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a detrimental effect on the tax bases of the home economy.

A more recent report – Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality : A Global Perspective by the International Monetary Fund concluded in June this year that there is no trickle-down effect –  the rich simply get richer:

“We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down.”

It’s inconceivable that the Conservatives fail to recognise such policy measures will widen inequality. Conservatives regard inequality and social hierarchy as inevitable, necessary and functional to the economy. Furthermore, Conservatives hail greed and envy as emotions to be celebrated, since these drive competition.

Since the emergence of the New Right, from Thatcher to Cameron, we have witnessed an increasing entrenchment of Neoliberal principles, coupled with an aggressive, authoritarian brand of social conservatism that has an underpinning of crude, blunt social Darwinist philosophy, as carved out two centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer.

Spencer is best known for the expression “survival of the fittest,” which he coined in Principles of Biology (1864), after reading Charles Darwin’s work. Spencer extended natural selection into realms of sociology, political theory and ethics, ultimately contributing to the eugenics movement. He believed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited. Maslow would disagree. All a struggle for survival motivates is just a struggle for survival.

Spencer’s ideas of laissez-faire; a survival-of-the-fittest brand of competitive individualism; minarchism – minimal state interference in the processes of natural law – and liking for private charity, are echoed loudly in the theories of 20th century thinkers such as Friedrich HayekMilton Friedman and Ayn Rand who each popularised Spencer’s ideas, whilst Neoliberal New Right Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron have translated these ideas into policies.

Ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as overt, objective statements of political intent. I’ve said many times over the past five years that Conservatives have forgotten that democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. Conservative policies are quite clearly no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are increasingly authoritarian, and all about telling us how to be.

Conservatives have always coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, and they have, from their pinnacle of supremacist, self-appointed authority, historically cast the vulnerable and the poorest as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

Furthermore, such a combination of Neoliberal and Conservative political theory, explicitly opposes democratic goals and principles. Neoliberalism was originally used by academics on the Left as a pejorative to capture the policies of imposed exploitation, privatisation, and inequality.

Neoliberalism is now characterised by the use of international loans and other mechanisms to suppress unions, squash state regulation, elevate corporate privilege, privatise public services, and protect the holdings of the wealthy. The term became widely recognised shorthand for rule by the rich, authoritarianism and the imposition of limits on democracy.

Banks, corporations, the financial sector, and the very wealthy are exercising power and blocking any attempt to restructure the economic system that brought about the crash.

Meanwhile, the free market is a market free for powerful interests; the profit motive has transformed the organising value of social life, and those who the Conservatives evidently regard as collateral damage of this socio-economic dogma made manifest are paying the price for the global crash, with Osborne and the Conservatives constructing narratives that problematise welfare support, generating moral panic and folk devils to demonise the poorest citizens in need of support.

Growing social inequality generates a political necessity for cultivating social prejudices.

Such Othering narratives divert public attention from the fact that the right to a fair and just legal system, a protective and effective safety net for the poorest, free healthcare – all of the social gains of our post-war settlement – are all under attack.

I have said elsewhere that Conservative ideology is incompatible with our legal commitments to human rights. The United Nations declaration of Human Rights is founded on the central tenet that each and every human life has equal worth. The Conservatives don’t agree, preferring to organise society into hierarchies of worth and privilege.

Conservative austerity measures and further impending welfare cuts are not only a deliberate attack on the poorest and most vulnerable social groups; the range of welfare cuts do not conform to a human rights standard; the “reforms” represent a serious failure on the part of the government to comply with Britain’s legal international human rights obligations.

The cuts announced by the chancellor include a further reduction to the benefits cap – not only from £26,000 to £23,000, as promised in the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto, but down even further to £20,000 outside of London.

Child tax credit, housing benefit and working tax credit will be reduced, with child tax credit only being paid for the first two children. Presumably this is, to quote Iain Duncan Smith, to “incentivise behavioural change,” placing pressure on the poorest to “breed less,” though personally, being the direct, blunt, no-nonsense sort, I prefer to call it a nudge towards “eugenics by stealth.”

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission say that any cuts to tax credits will cut the incomes of 45 per cent of working families. These cuts are particularly controversial, since the benefits cap was partly justified as a way of “making work pay”  – a Conservative narrative that echoes the punitive 1834 New Poor Law Principle of less eligibility – see: The New New Poor Law.

The Government asserts that its welfare “reform” strategy is aimed at breaking the cycle of “worklessness” and dependency on the welfare system amongst the poorest families. It’s more punitive Poor Law rhetoric.

There’s no such thing as “worklessness”, it’s simply a blame apportioning word, made up by the Tories to hide the fact that they have destroyed the employment market, just as Thatcher did, and as the Conservatives always do.

Punishing the low paid, cutting the income of families who work for low wages directly contradicts the claim that the Conservatives are “making work pay.”

Yet Osborne has framed his welfare cuts with the “The best route out of poverty is work” mantra, claiming that slashing the social security budget by £46 billion in the next five years, (including cutting those benefits to disabled people, who have been assessed as unfit for work and placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and cutting in-work benefits, such as tax credits) is needed to make sure “work pays” and that: “we give a fair deal for those on welfare and a fair deal to the people, the taxpayers of this country who pay for it.”

The Conservatives always conveniently divide people into an ingroup of taxpayers and an outgroup of stigmatised others – non-tax payers. However, most people claiming benefits are either in work, and are not paid enough, through no fault of their own, to pay tax, or are pensioners who have worked most of their lives; or are unemployed, but have previously worked and contributed tax.

Most people claiming disability benefits have also worked and contributed tax, too.

Unemployment and in-work benefit claims are generally a measure of how well or poorly the government is handling the economy, not of how “lazy” or “incentivised” people are.

And only the Tories have the cheek to claim that raising the minimum wage (long overdue, especially given the hikes in the cost of living) is the introduction of a living wage. The basic idea is that these are the minimum pay rates needed so that workers have an acceptable standard of living. Over the last few years, wages have very quickly fallen far behind the ever-rising cost of living.

The increase is at a rate of £7.20 an hour for people over the age of 25.  Housing benefit will be withdrawn from those aged between 18 and 21, while tax credits and universal credits will be targeted at people on lower wages by reducing the level at which they are withdrawn.

The chancellor’s announcement amounted merely to an increase in the minimum wage, and the curbs on tax credits would hit low-paid workers in other ways, unfortunately.

Whilst the announcement of a phased increase in the minimum wage is welcome, it is difficult to see how this will reverse the increasing inequality that will be extended as a further consequence of this budget without a matching commitment to improving the structural framework – the quality and stability of employment available. As it is, we are now the most unequal country in EU.

If the government were sincerely interested in raising wages to make work genuinely pay, ministers would be encouraging rather than stifling trade unionism and collective bargaining. But instead we see further cuts to public sector pay in real terms year after year and the raising of the legal bar for industrial action so that strikes will be effectively outlawed in public services. And let’s not forget the grubby partisan policy of two years ago – the Let Lynton Lobby Gagging Act.

Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said:

“Is this really a living wage? The living wage is calculated according to the cost of living whereas the Low Pay Commission calculates a rate according to what the market can bear. Without a change of remit for the Low Pay Commission this is effectively a higher national minimum wage and not a living wage.”

Those most affected by the extreme welfare cuts are those groups for which human rights law provides special protections. The UK government has already contravened the human rights of women, children, and disabled people.

The recent report of the UK Children’s Commissioner to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in July this year, says:

“Response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 [of the UN CRC] … Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families.”

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recently reported on the UK’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and found it woefully lacking:

“Welfare cuts will ensure that the government is not in compliance with its international human rights obligations to realise a right to an adequate standard of living under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESR) and a child’s right to an adequate standard of living under Article 27 of the UN CRC. Further it will be in breach of the statutory target to eliminate child poverty contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010.”

Just in case you missed it, there has been a very recent, suspiciously timed change to the definition of child poverty, and a proposed repeal of the Child Poverty Act – something that Iain Duncan Smith has been threatening to bring about since 2013.

It’s yet another ideologically directed Tory budget, dressed-up in the rhetoric of economic necessity, detached from public needs.

And Conservative ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

Related:

George Osborne’s Political MasterstrokeA View from the Attic

Osborne’s class spite wrapped in spin will feed a backlashSeumas Milne

Budget 2015: what welfare changes did George Osborne announce, and what do they mean?  New Statesman: The Staggers

How Osborne’s new cuts breach the UK’s human rights obligations, Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Osborne’s razor: the Tory principle of parsimony is applied only to the poorest

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone

The link between Trade Unionism and equality

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In an article I wrote earlier this year – Conservatism in a nutshell – I outlined some basic themes of New Right Conservative ideology. I said:

Conservatives don’t like social spending or welfare – our safety net. That’s because when you’re unemployed and desperate, companies can pay you whatever they feel like – which is inevitably next to nothing. You see, the Tories want you in a position to work for next to nothing or starve, so their business buddies can focus on feeding their profits, which is their only priority. Cheap-labour conservatives don’t like the minimum wage, or other improvements in wages and working conditions. These policies undo all of their efforts to keep you desperate. They don’t like European Union labour laws and directives either, for the same reason.

Conservatives prioritise handing out our money to their big business partners, no matter what it costs us as a society. For example, a spending breakdown reveals how NHS funding has flowed to private firms, much of that money has gone to companies with corrupt ties to the Tories, whilst health care is being rationed, care standards have plummeted, services are cut, and by the end of the next financial year, health service workers will have had their pay capped for six years, prompting fully justified strike action.

Following the tide of sleaze and corruption allegations, Cameron “dealt” with with parliamentary influence-peddling by introducing the Gagging Act, which is primarily a blatant attack on trade unions (which are the most democratic part of the political funding system) and Labour Party funding, giving the Tories powers to police union membership lists, to make strike action very difficult and to cut union spending in election campaigns.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. And there are many other examples of this government removing mechanisms of transparency, accountability and safeguards to rights and democracy.

We have witnessed a dramatic increase in levels of economic inequality this past four years, reflected in the fact that income differences between top earners and those on the lowest wages are now higher than at any time since records began. The UK now ranks as one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, even more unequal than the US, home of the founding fathers of neoliberalism. Our current levels of inequality have far exceeded the point at which campaigners need any further proof to show how socially corrosive and life-limiting the subsequent deepening poverty is.

Despite the legislative framework of Labour’s Equality Act, passed in 2010, there is a growing gender-based pay gap, continued abuse of agency workers, the problem of the two-tier work force and the contracting out of public servicesStrong trade unions improve public services, too.

Speaking at a press conference on the first day of the 2014 TUC Congress, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The key message of this year’s congress is Britain needs a pay rise and I also expect many of the debates on the floor to focus on the importance of the coming general election for people at work.

Today, I want to highlight the threat posed by the Conservative Party’s promised manifesto proposals on strike ballots.

Because these proposals are designed to make unions weaker. And if unions become weaker, then the chances of people winning a pay rise, improving living standards and tackling inequality in Britain today will become a good deal harder.

The Conservative Party is not just proposing a few more bureaucratic obstacles that will make life a bit more difficult for trade unions.

Taken together, they would effectively ban strikes by the back door. And, on top of that, they would open up elected union leaders to increased surveillance by the state.

They are not just an attack on fundamental liberties. They will act to lower living standards for the majority of working people – whether or not they are union members.”

One half of the British population owns 9% of household wealth whilst the other half owns 91% of the wealth; and the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the poorest 20% of the entire population.

Conservatives are always obsessed with “economic growth”, but we know from history that economic expansion in itself does not promote equality: it is the types of employment, the rules and structure of the economy and policies that matter most. Conservative governments always create high levels of inequality.  Furthermore, they rarely manage to bring about the economic growth they promise. But recession due to reduced public spending is an inbuilt feature of neoliberalism, as we witnessed during the Thatcher era.

Inequality hinders growth in another important way: it fuels social conflict. However, social diversity has no negative impact on economic growth, despite what those on the blame-mongering Right would try and have us believe. It is economic policies that shape inequalities, not minority groups: they are the casualities of inequality not its creators.

Economic inequality is also about discrimination. Black and ethnic minority workers are disadvantaged in finding employment. Dismissal of pregnant workers is a widespread practice. Last year, the wage gap between men and women’s earnings increased and the progress previously made towards equal pay has been reversed.

Cameron’s government has mobilised resentment and fear on the part of relatively privileged social groups in relation to other subordinate or putatively threatening groups of politically defined Others – immigrants, unemployed people, disabled people, unionised workers, single mothers and so on.

Social inequalities and hierarchies are defended by Conservatives and secured in several ways. The defence of power, wealth and property, when threatened, tends to be micro-managed via rigid authoritarianism, through systems of mobilised prejudice and through free-market policies (the predictable effects of which are to transfer wealth upwards). All Conservative politics pivot on a fundamental commitment – the defence of privilege, status, and thus sustaining social inequality.

But it is only by shifting money from the high-hoarding rich to the high-spending rest of us, and not the other way around, that investment and growth may be stimulated and sustainable.

The Office of Budgetary Responsibility forecasts that the Coalition are facing a £17BILLION blackhole after the low pay  that their own policies have strongly encouraged have caused a slump in tax payments to the treasury.

It is very clear that austerity is not an economic necessity, but rather, it is an ideological preference, used as a justification for “shrinking the State” whilst defending power, wealth and privilege.

The Coalition have introduced trade union laws which inhibit trade union recruitment, activity and collective bargaining. Employment rights are being removed, at a time when policies have reduced access to unfair dismissal protection and access to employment tribunals.

Trade unions are most effective when all workers are represented and therefore trade unionism encourages social inclusion. Collective bargaining and representational support will not work in the long term if some workers have substantially less to gain from the process than others.

For this reason, trade unions and the Labour Party have worked at eliminating sex, race and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. This has taken time, given how deeply ingrained inequalities have been in our society. We know that where trade unions are active, employers are more likely to have equal opportunities policies.

But for proper support of economic equality, trade unions need legal protection for their activities so they may operate freely and build effective social solidarity and promote egalitarianism.  Trade unions seek increased participation by working people in the decisions that influence their lives and a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth. That is the antithesis of Conservatism.

Freedom to speak out against injustice, to campaign for economic equality and to work together through trade unions are underpinned by rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It’s no surprise that Cameron has pledged to exit the ECHR and to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act.

To tackle economic inequality and build a fairer society, it is essential that trade-unions can operate freely and that collective bargaining is renewed. The impoverishment and exploitation of any one group of workers is a threat to the well-being and livelihood of everyone.

Building a future economy where the benefits of work and profit are shared requires legal reform in support of effective trade unions.

Lydia Hayes and Tonia Novitz from the Centre For Labour and Social Studies have written  the following proposals, designed to change public policy, so that trade unions are better able to represent their members, by  simplifying the statutory procedure for trade union recognition, and putting in place arrangements for sector-wide collective bargaining:

1. Introduce a legal framework through which trade unions can freely organise and engage in collective action to build economic equality.

2. Amend trade union recognition legislation so that all workers who choose to join a union can be represented in collective bargaining and other workplace matters.

3. Ensure the law provides for sectoral bargaining which can set minimum terms and conditions across an industry or a service sector.

4. Defend human rights which protect the functioning of trade unions (including rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association).

5. Give trade unions access to workers and workplaces, so that they can advise on the benefits of membership and collective bargaining.

6. Enable workers to have access to information about trade unions at their workplace so that they can make an informed choice and easily join a trade union if they want to.

None of this will happen during the current government’s term, because Conservatism is in diametric opposition to trade unionism, equality, human rights and egalitarianism.

Related
The Institute of employment Rights

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the graphics.

 


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Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.

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Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook some of the parallels with increasingly authoritarian characteristics of our own right wing government here in the UK.

Controlled mass media is one example of such a defining feature of fascism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. And then there is an obsession with “National Security” –  with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public.

In June 2013, a visit by Government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. 

This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

Absolutely. Since when was investigative journalism a crime?

Even the Telegraph columnist Janet Daley remarked that these events were like something out of East Germany in the 1970s.

This certainly raised critically important legal and ethical issues, for those involved in journalism, especially if some kinds of journalism can be so easily placed at risk of being politically conflated with terrorism.

Once again, the mild and left wing/liberal Guardian is under attack by our Tory-led government. In an extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian newspaper, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, has called for the newspaper to be “blackballed” and prevented from joining the new press regulatory body, because “day after day it gets its facts wrong.” Remarkably, “ineptitude or ideology” were to blame for what he deemed “mistakes” in the paper’s coverage of the DWP’s cuts to benefits. He called for the broadsheet to be kept out of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), set up after the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. 

As a former journalist at the Sun and The Sunday Times, Caseby certainly has an axe to grind against the paper that revealed how those right wing papers’ stablemate, the News Of The World, had hacked the voicemail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler, sparking the phone hacking scandal that prompted Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

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Richard Caseby, pictured when giving evidence to MPs as managing editor of The Sun.

In July 2011 it emerged that Cameron met key executives of Murdoch’s News Corporation 26 times during the 14 months that Cameron had served as Prime Minister. It was also reported that Murdoch had given Cameron a personal guarantee that there would be no risk attached to hiring Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World, as the Conservative Party’s communication director in 2007. This was in spite of Coulson having resigned as editor over phone hacking by a reporter. Cameron chose to take Murdoch’s advice, despite warnings from Nick Clegg, Lord Ashdown and the Guardian. Coulson resigned his post in 2011 and was later arrested and questioned on allegations of further criminal activity at the News of the World, specifically regarding the News International phone hacking scandal.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons served a summons on Murdoch, his son James, and his former CEO Rebekah Brooks to testify before a committee on 19 July. After an initial refusal, the Murdochs confirmed they would attend after the committee issued them a summons to Parliament. The day before the committee, the website of the News Corporation publication the Sun was “hacked”, and a false story was posted on the front page claiming that Murdoch had died. Murdoch described the day of the committee “the most humble day of my life.”  He argued that since he ran a global business of 53,000 employees and that the News of the World was “just 1%” of this, he was not ultimately responsible for what went on at the tabloid. 

On 1 May 2012, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a report stating that Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

On 3 July 2013 Exaro and Channel 4 news broke the story of a secretly recorded tape. It had been recorded by Sun journalists, and in it Murdoch can be heard telling them that the whole investigation was “one big fuss over nothing”, and that he, or his successors, would “take care” of any journalists who went to prison.

He said: “Why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.” Murdoch believes that he doesn’t have to be accountable. His initial refusal to testify, despite being summonsed, is extraordinarily indifferent and arrogant.

In connection with Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry “into the ethics of the British press,” editor of Newsweek International, Tunku Varadarajan, referred to him as “the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers.”

Not a shred of concern raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth industry, and right wing scapegoating empire, coming from our government, a point worth reflecting on for a moment. Miliband said the phone-hacking was not just a media scandal, but it was a symbol of what was wrong with British politics.  He called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.He said: “If you want to minimise the abuses of power, then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.” 

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan  Smith is “monitoring” the BBC for any “left wing bias”. Gosh, I just bet that took the jolly well-known ardent commie Chris Patten by complete surprise…

The BBC Trust said that a programme called the “Future of Welfare”, written and presented by John Humphrys, breached its rules on impartiality and accuracy. It found that the programme had failed to back up with statistics claims that there was a “healthy supply of jobs”.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, defended Humphrys as a “robust broadcaster” and said the documentary was “thoughtful and intelligent”. And perhaps most importantly, it endorsed the Governments’ punitive and callous welfare  “reforms.”

Duncan Smith was infuriated by the BBC’s coverage of the ruling, which he felt gave “too much airtime to campaigners.” Too much for what, exactly, we have to wonder. Perish the thought that anyone may dare to poke at the half-timbered facade of Tory ideology – Duncan Smiths’ rhetoric is a painful parody of fact that loudly dismisses – and intentionally obscures – the private despair and ruined lives of so many of those least able to speak up for themselves.

He said: “I have just watched reporting on the BBC about the Government winning a High Court judgement on the Spare Room Subsidy (that’s the Bedroom Tax to you and I) that once again has left me absolutely staggered at the blatant Left-wing bias within the coverage. And yet the BBC Trust criticise John Humphrys’s programme, which was thoughtful, intelligent and born out of the “real” life experience of individuals.”  The same Duncan Smith, who chooses to deny the all too painful and impoverished real life experiences his policies have inflicted on many. He prefers to lie them away from public attention. Or dismiss them as merely “anecdotal”.

Duncan Smith’s credibility doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny here, as someone attempting to verify “accuracy” and er…  statistical claims. Ah, yes. The Department of Work and Pensions – Iain Duncan Smiths’ Department – has a long track record of misusing statistics, making unsubstantiated inferences and stigmatising claimants, and it’s clear these are tactics used to attempt to vindicate further welfare cuts. In fact several minsters, including Cameron, have been officially rebuked by the Office of National Statistics for telling lies, and in Duncan Smith’s case – on at least 3 occasions this past 12 months despite warnings regarding his dishonest claims in the media, as well as in parliament. 

So considering all of this, it was with some incredulity that I read Caseby’s comments in the Huff Post earlier: “Should the new IPSO members accept (editor Alan Rusbridger) as a johnny-come-lately? No, rather he should be blackballed. Sorry, but the Guardian isn’t fit to become a member of IPSO until it starts valuing accuracy.”

And: “In the end, of course, it’s IPSO’s decision. But should the new standards body be so gracious as to invite him in, I guess I’ll be waiting to lodge the first complaint.” He said an MP had complained to the Office for National Statistics over The Guardian’s reporting of its data. I bet that was said without a trace of irony, too.

So, if alleged (and improbable) benefits inaccuracies “should get [The] Guardian blackballed,” what is this spin doctor’s recommendation for the perpetual propagandarising, lying, right wing media and a lying government minister’s serial offensive “benefits inaccuracies”?

Oh … of course, this is Iain Duncan Smiths’ relatively new pet guard dog.

An interesting choice of word from Caseby – “blackballing”, which is a rejection in a traditional form of secret ballot, where a white ball ballot constitutes a vote in support and a black ball signifies opposition. This system is typically used where a club (or Lodge) rules provide that, rather than a majority of the votes, one or two objections are sufficient to defeat a proposition. Since the seventeenth century, these rules have commonly applied to elections to membership of many gentlemen’s clubs and similar institutions such as in Freemasonry. It’s an apt term because of its association with conservatism, tradition and secrecy. 

In contrast, and unlike many whistleblowers who remain anonymous, Edward Snowden chose to be open and go public. Snowdens’ sole motive for leaking the documents was, in his words, “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”  He believes that the global public is due an explanation of the motives of those who act outside of the democratic process.

To “protect democracy” we have governments that are subverting the law. This is a fundamental paradox, of course and Snowden saw this could lead to the collapse of democracy and critically endanger our freedom. And Snowden reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. It has to be one that is free enough to allow a diverse range of political commentaries, rather than a stranglehold of right wing propaganda from the Murdoch empire and its ideological stablemates.

I think that the process of dismantling democracy started in May 2010 here in the UK, and has been advancing incrementally ever since, almost undetected at first, because of pervasive government secrecy and a partly complicit, dominant right wing media.

But once you hear the jackboots, it’s far too late.

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With big thanks to Robert Livingstone

Related 

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. The Government’s Lobbying Bill has been criticised by bloggers and campaigners from right across the political spectrum, with the likes of Owen Jones and Guido Fawkes united in agreement over this issue: that the Bill is a “Gagging Act”. Five Conservatives – Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall – voted against the Bill, whilst others also expressed concerns.

The Bill will treat charities, think tanks, community groups and activists of every hue as “political parties”. From small groups addressing local matters to big national organisations, all equally risk being silenced in the year before a general election, to avoid falling under electoral law. Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission. Since most aspects of our public life are political, (and a substantial proportion of our private life has been increasingly politicised under this authoritarian government) this stifles much essential debate in election years when voters should be hearing and evaluating policy choices.

The ‘Let Lynton Lobby Bill’: Grubby Partisan Politics and a Trojan Horse 

 


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The “Let Lynton Lobby Bill” – Grubby Partisan Politics and a Trojan Horse

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The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill  is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. The Government’s Lobbying Bill has been criticised by bloggers and campaigners from right across the political spectrum, with the likes of Owen Jones and Guido Fawkes united in agreement over this issue: that the Bill is a “Gagging Act”. Five Conservatives – Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall – voted against the Bill, whilst others also expressed concerns.

The Bill will treat charities, think tanks, community groups and activists of every hue as “political parties”. From small groups addressing local matters to big national organisations, all equally risk being silenced in the year before a general election, to avoid falling under electoral law. Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission. Since most aspects of our public life are political, (and a substantial proportion of our private life has been increasingly politicised under this authoritarian Government) this stifles much essential debate in election years when voters should be hearing and evaluating policy choices.

The ambiguous way in which this bill targets anything which may impact on an election is calculated and deliberate. It is a way of intimidating charities, trade unions, religious organisations and all protest groups into remaining silent on important issues (such as protecting the NHS, introducing fair taxation, fighting poverty, public health, education, financial sector reform, civil liberties, human rights, the privatisation agenda) in election years, and this includes European elections and local Council elections too, so it will mean an almost continuous constraint on organisational freedom to comment on politics in any way.

Political blogs may well be at risk of being included too, since they are campaigning entities that potentially attempt to impact the outcome of an election. This is a serious threat to independent politics and an abhorrent authoritarian attempt to silence criticism of the Government, using the threat of fines and imprisonment. Here in the UK, we have a Government very clearly intent on policing critical thinking and opinion.

The National Council For Voluntary Organisations (comprised of a large group of charities) has asked whether this Bill is rushed and badly written or whether it is deliberately intended as a “Trojan horse” in order to curtail the freedom of charities to campaign for their causes. Another 100 charities have also heavily criticised the proposed legislation. There is a broad public consensus that it is indeed calculated and fully intended as a Trojan horse, and it was a view shared widely in Parliament at the hearing of the Bill yesterday.

Trade Unions have reacted in disgust and horror as the scope of the Trojan horse element of the legislation became increasingly clear. Joint cooperation between various unions will be made more difficult to such an extent that the Trade Union Congress will effectively be banned in election years. Another absurd element to the legislation is that the arbitrary spending limit of £390,000 will mean the smaller the Trade Union (or charity, religious group or protest site) the greater their proportional influence will become.

The heads of the main lobbying agencies have attacked the Bill too, claiming that the way the Bill has been designed will mean even less transparency in the lobbying industry and a register of lobbyists with hardly any names on it.

Lansley claimed yesterday that charities raising their concerns about the consequences of the Bill  have “over-reacted”, but that view is not substantiated by the rather lethal analysis from the Electoral Commission, which was sent to every MP. Though it will have to enforce the law, the Commission was not consulted on the Bill. The Commission Chair said it has been given far too much discretion in interpreting “political campaigning”, so its decisions are bound to be challenged in law.

The controls “will be impossible to enforce”, and the Commission warns that the Bill greatly widens the range of activities that count as electoral costs – to include rallies, polling research, events, media work, transport and staffing costs for groups never previously regulated. One big danger for risk-averse charities: “it will not be an organisation’s “intent” but the “effect of the expenditure” that sweeps them into electoral law, so they can never know what might be challenged”. The Commission’s warning should alarm every single MP.

Most damning is the Commission’s statement that it will have serious problems interpreting this law because there is no “clear rationale for many of the changes”. That’s very diplomatic and polite, as most of us can see the rationale all too clearly. The Government has attacked so many people via its draconian policies, many are now suffering the brunt of the austerity cuts: a front for Tory ideology. Many organisations and charities see it as a duty to speak up for the causes that people donate to. Whether that’s for the victims of abuse, the homeless, deprived young offenders or victims of crime, it’s always a fine line – but the Charity Commission already polices their politics, and had already installed William Shawcross, a controversial and somewhat right-wing chair. (Despite his previous support for the Labour Party).

So many agree that the Lobbying  Bill is a thinly disguised crude gerrymander to try and stymie Labour, the Unions and gag the Government’s most dangerous potential critics. As Frances O’Grady said in the Guardian last month, the law means unions will hit the spending limit just by holding an annual conference in election year, leaving them unable to campaign.

Glenda Jackson summarised it all very tidily yesterday when she said: “The Lobbying Bill is a gagging act, and as it stands it will prevent democratic voices being heard. It’s a step backwards from the codes of conduct and sanctions that already exist”. 

Nick Clegg is a prime mover on this Bill, as minister in charge of constitutional reform, and Dennis Skinner humorously and astutely pointed out during the debate yesterday that: “The Liberal Democrats support the lobbying bill because they do not want students campaigning against them over tuition fees in 2015.”

Labour shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle called the bill “one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen any government produce in a very long time”. Referring to Andrew Lansley’s former role as health secretary, she added: “I think the last bill this bad might even have been the Health and Social Care Act, and your fingerprints were all over that one too”.

Although the Chair of the Electoral Commission said that regulators could be forced to take legal action against community groups and activists due to “confusion over their new role”, I don’t think there is any “confusion”.

The Tories are well known historically for their liking for “Gagging Acts”. Paine’s “Rights of Man” reached several hundred thousand readers and in May 1792, the Government reacted with a Royal Proclamation against “seditious writing”. There were Tory-organised local demonstrations of loyalty, including over 300 ritualised burnings of Tom Paine. The Government rushed in the further ‘Gagging Acts’ to tighten the treason statute and to ban large political meetings. A huge petitioning campaign followed, with loyalists expressing support and reformers protesting against the restriction, but the Bills were passed anyway.

In 1819, Lord Liverpool and his Tory Government responded to public outcry regarding the Peterloo Massacre by introducing the extremely oppressive Six Acts, which included gagging the “radical” press, and suppression of rights to public meetings. On the 23rd November, 1819, Lord Sidmouth, the Government ‘s Home Secretary, announced details of what later became  the Six Acts. By the 30th December,1819, Parliament had debated and passed the six measures that it hoped would suppress further dissent. There are examples of the Tory tendency for oppressive responses to dissent and criticism littered throughout history.

What we learned from this is that British political culture can be changed fundamentally in the course of resisting authoritarian efforts such as these, and now, we really must do so again.

Lobbying is simply the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the Government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by many different types of people and organised groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators, Government officials, or advocacy/interest groups.

Although lobbying is often spoken of with contempt, when the implication is that people with inordinate socio-economic power are corrupting the law in order to serve their own interests, another side of lobbying is making sure that the interests of others are duly defended against others’ corruption, or even simply making sure that minority interests are fairly defended against a tyranny of the majority. So there can be elements of power struggles to establish justice involved. Lobbying is therefore a crucial and very valuable part of democracy. Problems arise when some lobbyists are given priority, and come to influence Government policy-making more than others.

Before he became prime minister, Cameron predicted that secret corporate lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”, adding: “We all know how it works.” As a former lobbyist himself, he certainly did – and he still does.

Cameron’s own election adviser, Lynton Crosby, is a lobbyist for tobacco, alcohol, oil and gas companies. Which is why the prime minister came under attack for dropping curbs on cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing. Then there is Beecroft, the head of the private equity group that administers the high profile barely legal loan shark operation Wonga. The Wonga business model is to prey on the poor, vulnerable and absolutely desperate by offering them exploitative loans at eye-watering interest rates of 5,853% APR. Tellingly, even in the globally renowned haven of free-marketeering – the United States – such outrageous loans are illegal, but in the UK the Tory party are defiantly resisting efforts to regulate the so-called Payday lending sector and introduce maximum APRs.

Cameron’s party treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned after offering access to Cameron for a £250,000 party donation. His defence secretary, Liam Fox, resigned over his relationship with the lobbyist Adam Werritty. Political lobbyists were paid thousands of pounds to help broker a meeting with Liam Fox through Adam Werrity. Bell Pottinger were secretly filmed boasting about its access to the heart of Government, including its ability to persuade Cameron to speak to the Chinese premier on their behalf as well as its exclusive access to figures like William Hague. Let’s not lose sight of the scandals that have prompted this partly diversionary grubby, oppressively partisan policy from the Tories.

Last year the Tory party website openly offered donors the opportunity to attend events where Cameron was present, inviting supporters to join the “premier supporter group”, the Leader’s Group, whose annual membership costs a mere £50,000. (Here is the list of members). So signing up to the group will leave many free to buy direct access to the Prime Minister, other politicians and their advisers.

It’s worth considering that lobbying alone doesn’t begin to cover the extent of corporate influence on Government. The Tory party finds over half of its income from bankers, hedge fund and private equity financiers. Peers who have made six-figure donations have been rewarded with Government jobs. There’s a corruption that is eating our democracy and eroding our public life, and it’s perpetrated not just by lobbyists, but by the politicians, civil servants, bankers and corporate advisers who have increasingly come to swap jobs, favours and insider information, and inevitably come to see their interests as mutual and interchangeable.

The Bill won’t prevent lobbyists walking the corridors of power and speaking in parliamentary debates on the subject on which they work as lobbyists –  those such as David Howell, for example, in the news yet again today. George Osborne’s father-in-law was accused of a conflict of interest last night after it emerged he is being paid by a Japanese high-speed rail firm with commercial interests in the UK at the same time as having top-level access to the Foreign Office as William Hague’s personal adviser.He is being paid as a “European consultant” to JR Central, a train company which could be a bidder for multimillion-pound contracts connected to the controversial HS2 rail line.

At least 142 peers linked to companies involved and invested in private healthcare were able to vote on last year’s Health Bill that opened the way to sweeping and corrosive outsourcing and privatisation.  Recently, the Tory MP Patrick Mercer resigned the party whip when details of yet another lobbying scandal emerged.

The Tories have normalised corruption and made it almost entirely legal. Our democracy and civic life are now profoundly compromised as a result of corporate and financial power “colonising” the State.

So against this backdrop of their own sleaze, the Tories responded with the anti-democratic Lobbying Bill. If the Tories were had a an ounce of honesty about their anti-democratic intentions, it would be called the “Protection of Corporate Lobbying and Silencing of Legitimate Political Debate and Criticism Bill”.

Or the “Let Lynton Lobby” Bill, as Angela Eagle has dubbed it. The Bill had not been presented to the Select Committee in full until the day before recess, it emerged yesterday. The Electoral Commission hadn’t see the draft either. Cameron is also attempting to limit judicial review. If Select Committees are excluded from the legislative process, a case can be challenged under judicial review as that means the legislation is being created on an undemocratic and procedurally unfair basis. Select Committees are part of the constitutional area of law making, they simply cannot be ignored.

The withholding of key details of drafted Bills from Select Committees means that effective and organised challenging from the opposition is stifled, too. We most certainly have an authoritarian Government that arrived unannounced and unauthorised, one that has very clearly spent some time out of Office rather vindictively planning an attack on civil society, reversing the gains of our post-war settlement, and preemptively dismantling the means of redress. The contents of the Lobbying Bill highlight this further. This was a carefully calculated move, and such tactics have become increasingly common since this Government took Office. It would be an enormous mistake, if not academic dishonesty, to pretend that we now live in a liberal democracy.

The Government has left a large loophole in this legislation that allows the likes of Crosby to get around being on the register. When was the last lobbying scandal we read about that involved Oxfam, Vox Political, or the Durham Miners Gala? The Lobbying Bill won’t do a thing to stop the revolving doors between Government and corporate interests (Wonga being a high profile example of this), and neither will it prevent corporate interest parties being invited to actually write Government legislation on their behalf.

Recent freedom of information requests reveal that Treasury officials met fracking industry representatives 19 times in the last 10 months about their generous tax breaks, yet the public are denied any further details of that lobbying on the grounds that it could prejudice commercial interests,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas. “Is the Leader of the House not ashamed that this Bill will drastically curtail the ability of charities to campaign in the public interest on issues such as fuel poverty and energy but do nothing to curb such secretive corporate influencing? The Bill does nothing to prevent lobbyists working directly for commercial concerns from approaching government ministers and trying to influence them”.

Part three of the Bill centres on trade union membership records, Angela Eagle and Caroline Lucas agreed that there appears to be no policy motive for the introduction of this new law other than as a vehicle for cheap, partisan attacks on the trade unionsof which only a minority are actually affiliated to the Labour party. During a belated consultation meeting with the TUC – it took place after the Bill had been published – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills officials could cast no light on why part three exists at all.

Nor were they able to explain the origin of these proposals beyond their oft-repeated mantra that the provisions contained in part three: “It came out of a high level meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. I think that revelation tells us all we need to know about the grubby, partisan nature of the measures “ – Caroline Lucas

The contents of this Bill are all about stifling essential democratic debate, and stymying legitimate criticism of the Government, and that in itself is actually frightening. But it’s also important not to lose sight of how this Draft has progressed, or rather, has been sneaked along to a second hearing. As I stated, the Lobbying Bill was NOT presented to the Parliamentary Committee in full until 1 day before recess. In fact the  Committee was presented initially with only the Consultation, and with no details of the Bill, for scrutiny. There has been NO pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill.

T
his Bill has been entirely deviously constructed by a spiteful and self-serving, anti-democratic Government. That this same Government no longer deems it necessary to be accountable for its policies, and is by-passing democratic processes and legal safeguards, is frankly terrifying. We really do have an oppressive, authoritarian Government. Consider how likely is it that will this Bill will affect the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and the Daily Mail Group, because they spend a huge amount amount per day, and much of the content of the press is highly political in nature.

Surely if charities and trade unions are going to have their freedom of speech curtailed to just £390,000 worth of influence, the mainstream press must be curtailed in the same way. Of course that won’t happen because the Tories are quite happy to have the baying right-wing press supporting their every step towards absolute tyranny. The press will most likely be exempt, because the Tories wouldn’t want to interfere with the (particular) “freedom” of the press. (Unless of course they object to specific information being made accessible to the public, in which case, they may demand that particular newspapers smash up their hard drives, whilst government officials intimidate the families of journalists by arresting them under “anti-terrorism” legislation.)

How did we get here? How could we be facing such tyrannical constraints on our most fundamental liberties, and it has happened so very quickly, too.

Paulo Freire said “Men and women develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation.” – Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

This insight offers us – and all of those who experience subordination through any imposed regime – a path through which we come to understand what it means to be a moving, shared cultural voice in a Society that is being constructed by the tyranny of a few to hold us still and in place like an object.

It is a learning process that always involves pain and hope; a process through which, as forced cultural jugglers, we can come to, cooperatively and subjectivity, organising and transcending our object position in a Society that hosts us, yet is becoming alien. It’s up to us to reclaim it, to make it our own. And to rebuild if we have to. I believe that history is built upon possibilities and human potential. We simply cannot allow this Government to foreclose and reduce that.

More reading:
Petition against Bill.
Independent – Report calls for withdrawal of Government’s lobbying reforms.
Owen Jones: Under the disguise of fixing lobbying this bill will crush democratic protest.
Mike Siver: Free speech is under threat.

 

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A big thank you to Robert Livingstone for his superb art work