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Issue #1623      January 22, 2014

Spending limit “risks aiding fascist cause”

Anti-fascist campaign Hope Not Hate warned last week that the Lobbying Bill still poses a major threat to the fight against the British National Party (BNP) despite a welcome Lords victory. Campaign co-ordinator Nick Lowles praised members of the upper house who voted 237 to 194 to exempt some charity staff costs from pre-election spending limits included in the law.

Ministers had announced a series of changes last week to appease voluntary sector critics of the “anti-lobbying” Bill, which heavily targets trade union activities.

Peers backed an amendment by Lord Harries of Pentregarth which would remove the “background staff costs” associated with holding events such as press conferences and rallies from the spending thresholds.

But Mr Lowles warned that the law still restricted charities and campaigning organisations to a tiny fraction of the amount that fascist parties such as the BNP are being allowed to spend promoting their message of hate.

“The £9,750 spending limit for constituency-based campaigning is deemed by the vast majority of NGOs as unworkable and by the Electoral Commission as unenforceable,” he said.

“Being made to spend only two percent of what the BNP and other political parties can spend in vulnerable local communities is both unfair and dangerous.”

Major fears also remain over the “union-bashing” nature of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party campaigning and Trade Union Bill. Unions face limits on campaigning as well as a draconian regime that would force them to hand over their membership lists.

Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady warned: “The government may have suffered another humiliating defeat on the Lobbying Bill in the Lords last night, but the threat to freedom of speech and the ability to campaign against racist organisations like the BNP remains real.

“Rather than muddling its way through the government should scrap the Bill, and start again with a Bill that actually focuses on lobbyists, rather than curbing civil society organisations.”

Morning Star

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