THE “SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP” between the U.S. and U.K. is defined by many shared characteristics, the most salient being a common tongue and a commitment to democracy. Such a bond is more than just quaint: similarities make it easy for one country to learn from the mistakes of the other. Noah Webster, for example, famously purged American spelling of much of its inherited inconsistencies.
Yet last month, when “The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill” became an Act of Parliament (law), the U.K. proved that it hasn’t learned a thing about the ongoing blunder that is U.S. lobbying law.
The law, apparently modeled on HLOGA, establishes a registrar to enforce lobbying registration and imposes limits on campaign spending for non political parties (trade associations, faith groups, etc.). Critics have been quick to pounce. The measure has already earned a negative reputation as the “gagging law” for its arbitrary restrictions on the freedom of association, the same alarm that’s still being sounded on this side of the Atlantic. The EU Observer calls it “misdirected,” and predicts that it will “further cleanse the political sphere not of corruption, but of the public itself.”
The Nottingham Post’s reaction to restrictions on non-party campaigning, which is the most contentious part of the law and which will be enforced in the run-up to elections–“crazy.” “The run-up to elections is just the time we want to have our say. That is the time we want to have debates in public space about what matters to us down our streets and in our playgrounds and workplaces.” Ekklesia, a Christian political think tank, is even more indignant, predicting the law will “gravely damage democracy and human rights.”
How can such flawed legislation achieve Royal Assent? The EU Observer summarized it beautifully, writing that proponents must rely on the “transforming [of] a democratic right such as lobbying…into an object of suspicion.” Congress has been there, done that, and active citizens are still facing the consequences. It’s a shame that Parliament has opted for a similar fate.