On Wednesday, HOPE Not Hate signalled its intention to launch a campaign to get Parliament to throw out or amend section II of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.
This Bill, if it becomes law, would severely restrict the ability of HOPE Not Hate to fight racism and fascism in the 12 months before a General Election. The Bill reduces the amount we would be able to spend in the 12 month election period by 70% whilst widening the range of activities we would have to account for. General campaigning staff costs would have to be included for the first time, as would organising rallies, conferences, policy briefings and even our website and blogs. Even some aspects of our work that have absolutely no relation to elections - such as research and general anti-racist community campaigning - may have to be included.
Worse still, the restrictions and caps placed on us go way beyond what is required by political parties.
And it is not just HOPE Not Hate that will suffer. Any organisation or individual that attempts to influence public opinion in the twelve months ahead of a General Election would be affected by these proposed new rules. This includes charities, unions, campaign groups, think tanks, faith organisations and even bloggers. That is why HOPE Not Hate has been involved in a series of meetings and discussions with other groups affected. We are all in this together.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was supposed to increase transparency and trust in politics but it is in fact shutting down the space for anyone other than political parties to actively participate in politics. At a time when there is so much distrust of political parties and politicians within British society we should be looking to increase participation in politics not reduce it.
And this, fundamentally, is the problem with this Bill. A deliberate attempt to limit criticism and participation by third party groups, charities and unions, combined with poor and sloppy drafting, has left us with a Bill that restricts Freedom of Speech for ordinary people.
The billionaire owner of a national newspaper is exempt from these rules. The millionaire donors to political parties are exempt from these rules. The political parties themselves are exempt from these rules. It's business as usual for the political and business elite. But for the cancer charity that wants to campaign against the closure of a hospital wing, the Royal British Legion who wants to campaign for the Army Covenant or HOPE Not Hate, in its campaign against racism and fascism, it is not business as usual.
It is David Cameron v the Big Society.
I want greater transparency and a level playing field in politics for everyone involved. But this Bill is an affront to a modern democracy. It is unworkable, politically motivated and, probably, illegal. We must do everything we can to ensure that the little people have a voice and can be heard.
For more information, visit hopenothate.org.uk