Government plans to attackunions with the lobbying bill are in trouble—but they’re still very nasty.
The Tories are promising to rewrite the Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.
After a wave of outrage at attacks on charities’ ability to organise (see box, below left), the Lib Dems and the Tories are promising fundamental amendments.
The bill isn’t about stopping corporate lobbyists.
It plans to bring in a register of lobbyists—but if you work directly
lobbying for a firm, you won’t have to join it (see box, below right).
It proposes that any organisation that spends more than £5,000 and engages in political campaigning will be forced to register with the Electoral Commission.
If they don’t, they could be shut down.
Registering with the Electoral Commission will impose a series of rules and regulations on groups, and put obstacles in the way of campaigning.
Whatever amendments are made, the main purpose of the bill will remain. It is primarily intended as an assault on trade union funding.
So the largest spender in 2010 that would be affected by the legislation was the Unison union.
The legislation is a pre-election gift to Tory candidates who have long complained about union-funded phone banks, leaflets and adverts to back Labour.
According to Chloe Smith, minister for constitutional and political reform, “Controlled expenditure by a recognised third party would now include expenditure on a broader range of activities such as market research, rallies, press conferences or transport.
“This is to ensure all relevant campaigning activity is caught.”
The bill will reduce the total cap on campaigning expenditure in the year before a general election from £989,000 to £390,000.
It broadens the definition of spending to include staff time and office costs.
The TUC has warned that it could be forced to cancel its 2014 annual congress and any national demonstrations in the year before the next election.
Otherwise, it could breach the spending limit.
A union will be permitted to spend up to £319,800 in England, £35,400 in Scotland and £24,000 in Wales.
The Bill also proposes that no more than £9,750 can be spent in each constituency in England in the year before the election on 7 May 2015.
This is intended to stop campaigns against specific ministers.
And the Bill includes the concept of “targeted expenditure”, which is a subset of “controlled expenditure”.
So while unions individually can spend £319,800 in England on “controlled expenditure”, they can only spend £31,980 on expenditure targeted at a particular political party.
The Bill is such a mess that it will now likely pass only with significant amendments.