Tuesday 28 January was one of the darker days of this dark Parliament. It was the day the Gagging Bill finally passed through the House of Lords.
Only just – the vote on one amendment was 245 to 245. But with such a result, the Lords defer to the Commons.
The House of Commons had already voted down the Lords’ previous amendments to the Bill. They returned to the Lords a final time.
The Bill has now jumped its last hurdle. It will become law.
Thanks to the LibDems’ support.
80 LibDem peers trooped into the lobbies with the Tories.
In the House of Commons it has required LibDem added to Tory votes for this Bill to pass through stage after stage of its Parliamentary journey.
There’s an opinion often attributed to the eighteenth century – conservative! – thinker Edmund Burke: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing’.
In this case, however, many good men – and women – did a lot, but to no avail.
This iniquitous bill was opposed by the widest range of third sector organisations imaginable.
It was not just Trade Unions, or 38 Degrees, or the Coalition’s other ‘usual suspects’ who opposed this bill.
On Tuesday adverts appeared in the national press in the names of over 100 charitable organisations. The signatories included such well-known left-wing rabble-rousers as the Countryside Alliance, Mumsnet, the Campaign for Real Ale, Arthritis Care, Guide Dogs, Parkinsons UK.
The message was clear and simple
‘The Lobbying Bill would stop charities and campaigning groups from speaking out on some of the most important issues facing the country and the planet’.
The Coalition has made great play with the changes it has made.
But these organisations were in no doubt
‘even once recent Government changes to the Bill are taken into account[.] It remains an unacceptable threat to democracy and freedom of speech.’
The Coalition’s original proposals will pass, in large part, into law. They will tie up these organisations in the labrynthine red tape of regulatory burdens, face them with fears of cost and of legal process.
So there we have it. One of the greatest threats to civil society in any of our lifetimes.
What is it this Coalition is so afraid of that it has had to mount such an attack on civil liberties?
Debate? Criticism? Electoral defeat. . . . .
Whatever, this has been an especially shameful episode in the history of the LibDems.
If that party stands for anything, it surely stands for freedom of speech and debate.
They have made claims about how the Bill has been amended and improved. We have had mealy-mouthed protestations from the likes of Shirley Williams saying that this is no ‘gagging law’.
100+ charitable organisations think otherwise.
Who do you believe?
You will hear a lot of special pleading from the LibDems over the coming months. How they have restrained the Tories. How they are necessary as a check on any future Labour government.
When you hear that – remember these votes. This is a party without principles, interested only in its own electoral survival.
Individual LibDem MPs voting against particular pieces of legislation are just a sideshow.
Without the LibDems this essentially Tory Coalition could have done nothing. They certainly could not have passed the Gagging Law.
And if LibDems are voted in again – any of them – then we’re in danger of a Tory Coalition even worse than this one.
Good men and women did a lot.
But for evil to triumph it was only necessary that the Tories and the LibDems be in Coalition.
Burke didn’t say that, incidentally – though the words are often said to be his.
He did say
“When bad men combine, the good must associate’.
Remember that when you cast your vote in 2015.
Or even join with us NOW to make sure this never happens again.
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