An op-ed by Maina Kiai has been featured in the Guardian. The piece concerns the United Kingdom’s proposed “Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill” – legislation that would impose harsh restrictions on civil society advocacy during the year prior to an election.
The most concerning part of the legislation would broaden the definition of what constitutes “election campaigning” to include any activity that affects the outcome of an election, even if unintentionally. The law would then regulate that activity as election campaigning and impose severe limits on spending. The concern, many charities say, is that their normal advocacy activities would be labeled “election campaigning” subject to campaign laws, virtually shutting them down during election periods.
Although the legislation is being sold as a way to level the electoral playing field, Kiai argues that the bill actually does little more than shrink the space for citizens – particularly those engaged in civil society groups – to express their collective will. Meanwhile, restrictions on in-house corporate lobbyists would be weak, leaving civil society groups to bear the brunt of the law’s impact. While it is understandable that the UK might wish to establish restrictions on the influence of money in politics, Kiai argues that this bill, in its current form, is the wrong way to do it.
“Shutting down … debate wholesale does nothing to advance democracy,” Kiai wrote. “It only threatens to indelibly mar future elections with the stain of silenced voices.”
The legislation is currently in the report stage in the House of Lords and is expected to go to a vote this week.