To find arguments and frustrations about the dreadful lobbying Bill which the coalition introduced just over a year ago, you might do worse than search for references on this blog. However with 42 blogs written on the topic to date (this is the 43rd) you will have plenty to choose from. As we are in the middle of the General Election, someone with my views would favour a political party that was opposed to the Bill. That leaves the Greens and Labour. However now the coalition has effectively ended, the news that a future Government containing Liberal Democrats would “consider carefully” whether the lobbying act struck the right balance in regulating non-party campaigning, encourage social action and social investment, and allow public interest local media outlets to obtain charitable status is something of a surprise. That is according to the party’s manifesto for the 2015 general election. It says that as part of the coalition government, the party “passed a lobbying act to introduce a register of consultant lobbyists and curb the influence of special interest money in elections”. It says the party would take note of the result of the review of part 2 of the act by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. The manifesto says: “We will consider carefully the work of the independent reviewer into the impact of third-party spending regulations to ensure the right balance has been struck. We will also remove the discrimination against third parties by requiring political parties to include the cost of staffing in their national expense limits in the same way as third parties now do.”
So there you have it, Labour and the Greens would repeal part 2 of the Lobbying Bill, and the Liberal Democrats will consider carefully if it needs to be changed. Perhaps by the General Election in 2020 the Party will have had the guts to admit that they were wrong to vote (with one or two notable exceptions) en bloc for the Bill and indeed for the inclusion of Part 2 even though many of us were making substantial representations on the issue. At least one Lib Dem Prospective MP who really needs to make his mind up on this issue is Norman Baker who wrote to me, several months after I first raised my concerns about the Bill with him.
“Government ministers, MPs, and Peers have all worked tirelessly on this Act with a wide range of charities and organisations. As a result of all the input during the passage of the Act through parliament, we now have a balanced and proportionate piece of legislation, which does not impinge in any way on what an individual or group can say during elections. It only affects what they may spend on supporting particular political parties or candidates.”
Norman Baker February 2014