UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

UNISON at the sharp end of Lobbying Bill political restrictions

In recent weeks there has been a belated but welcome realisation by a range of campaigning organisations from 38 Degrees to the TUC about the draconian implications of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill which gets its second reading in Parliament today. Much has been made about the lobbying bill restricting the ability of charities to campaign. But as the exemplary analysis by Professor Keith Ewing has highlighted, trade unions and the Labour Party are the target of the bill’s parliamentary draftsmen, with UNISON caught in the cross hairs:

An examination of the electoral commission’s report on the 2010 general election spending confirms only 33 registered third party campaigners of which 8 were unions (including the Wales TUC but not the TUC itself). 23 of these campaigners reported a total expenditure of £2.8 million of which UNISON’s £671, 866 was the largest of all. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the lobbying bill has the potential to neuter UNISON's General Political Fund in the pre-general election period when it has proven so effective over the past 20 years with imaginative and targeted advertising campaigns in defence of public services.

As Keith Ewing highlights the Bill is proposing “a new concept of ‘targeted expenditure’, which is a subset of ‘controlled expenditure’. So while unions individually can spend £319,800 in England on ‘controlled expenditure’ generally, they can only spend £31,980 on expenditure targeted at a particular political party. This is a measure designed to stop trade union support for the Labour party rather than against the BNP, as some activists appear to believe.

In a clumsily written provision, expenditure will be targeted at a political party only if it can ‘reasonably be regarded’ as being intended to benefit that party or any of its candidates. It seems to me that this is the red meat of the entire Bill, and as such it is a vicious attack on trade union political freedom. Almost all election expenditure will fall within this definition of ‘targeted expenditure. If it does not, there would be no point incurring it in the first place.”