Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The party of free speech

Labour will clear up the ‘dog’s breakfast’ of the Lobbying Act

The election is now only a month away. For many, the day is a key milestone in their calendar – the opportunity to elect the government, to choose their local representative and to pick a party and prime minister.

But for millions, the day passes without recognition; they do not go to the ballot box and cast their vote. In 1987, the turnout rate for the poorest income group was four per cent lower than for the wealthiest. However, in 2010 that gap had increased to 23 per cent. In 1970, there was an 18-point gap in turnout rates between 18-24-year-olds and those aged over 65. By 2010 the gap had nearly doubled to 32 points.

The next Labour government will undertake various reforms to tackle this problem. We will make it easier for local authorities to register voters, by removing individual voter registration. This would allow schools, colleges and universities to register students by block. Ed Miliband will legislate to reduce the voting age to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the vote, which, combined with renewed emphasis on citizenship education, is an opportunity to create a politically engaged generation. As well as reforming voting legislation, we are committed to reforming parliament by banning second jobs for members of parliament and opening up the legislative process to allow for greater scrutiny from MPs and the public.

The next Labour government will also protect and extend the freedom of political expression beyond voting, parliament and political parties. Increasingly, people do not view politics through the prism of tribal battles between party machines confined to the Westminster bubble. But they are passionate about issues that affect them, their families and their communities.

Britain is becoming increasingly diverse and mobile. With technological advancements, it has never been so easy to spread ideas, to join debates or sign petitions. This rise of single-issue campaigning is welcome. The next Labour government will introduce a regulatory scheme to allow these kinds of campaigns to flourish.

This coalition has got it horribly wrong with the Lobbying Act. The premise of Part 2 of the act was that the rise of energetic campaigns and charities was a mischief that must be solved. There was an underlying streak of suspicion and mistrust from the government towards millions of people who petition and campaign on the issues that matter to them.

Described as a ‘dog’s breakfast’ by the constitutional and political reform committee, the act even managed to unite the TaxPayers’ Alliance with the Trades Union Congress, the Countryside Alliance with Friends of the Earth.

Labour fought the bill throughout parliament. And we have now promised to repeal it in government. We believe in free speech, encouraging democratic debate and ensuring transparency. The act stifled these principles; we want to protect and encourage them.

Labour wants a healthy and thriving campaigning and charity sector – a vital part of democracy – that can stand up to vested interests. We want these organisations to play their part in our democratic debate. We will build a regulatory framework which allows and encourages this.


Stephen Twigg is shadow minister for political and constitutional reform


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Stephen Twigg MP

is chair of the international development select committee

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