Campaigners mustn’t feel chilled by the Lobbying Act

Posted on 16/07/2018

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The turmoil in British politics increases daily – and with it the possibility of a General Election within the next 12 months.

Such an election would mean that any activity currently underway which could be seen as influencing the way people vote would be covered by the Lobbying Act and Electoral Commission’s regulations.

Recent research from the Sheila Mckechnie Foundation revealed the chilling reality of these regulations.

Over half of charities (51%) say the Act has affected their ability to achieve their organisational mission or vision. For example, Citizen’s UK claimed the Act:

Has neutralised our charitable objective dramatically.

Another environmental charity claimed that any threats to their campaigning activity:

Would be a failure to represent the concerns of our supporters.

More than a third (35%) say they have avoided issues seen as too politically ‘live’ and 36% say they have changed their language or tone in campaigning.

If it’s not a surprise the Act has had a negative impact on campaigners’ ability to achieve objectives, that campaigners have also been pulling their punches when it comes to the language used in their campaigns is truly disturbing.

For example, RSPB admitted that the Act hadn’t changed the types of activity but had changed the way the charity present things on the website and social media. They told the SMK researchers that changes were made to the tone, style and language of creative content which has made reaching outside their support base more difficult.

A housing charity claimed that:

The Lobbying Act 2014 put a layer of caution on our messaging development so that we were seen to be completely neutral and impartial.

The impact of this caution meant that 34% of campaigners were less agile or responsive and a similar number spent more time in discussion with senior managers about the approval of content.

The issues for local organisations or branches are also significant, with constituency spending limits causing confusion and preventing campaigns from some organisations, with one claiming that working in multiple places would take them over the limit. The Salvation Army stated that:

Constituency spending limits can cause trouble when local churches find themselves embroiled in a big local issue.

The chilling reality of the Lobbying Act is clear to see, but the Act is here to stay as the government has rejected any attempts to reform or repeal the poorly worded and badly implemented legislation.

Yet, there are ways that campaigners can overcome the oppressive nature of the Lobbying Act. The research has been released as the number of downloads of the PRCA-backed Freedom To Campaign Guide has surpassed 750 since it was launched in January.

The Freedom to Campaign Guide to the Lobbying Act has been developed to ensure that charities and campaigners know what they CAN do under the rules. Sadly, it’s a testament to the confusion of the Act itself and formal guidance that so many campaigners have now downloaded the Guide.

A version of this post first appeared on Public Relations & Communications Association’s website.