The new coalition government seems to have gone a little crazy when it comes to website consultations. In the last few weeks we’ve had them announce ‘Spending Challenge‘ and ‘Your Freedom‘, with no doubt more to come in future weeks.
They’d say its all part of their new agenda of engaging with the public and moving away from a top-down approach, although the cynic in me says that it’s a good PR opportunity. No doubt time will tell if they provide good opportunities for campaigners, or if they’re just a diversion to provide some semblance of consultation but ultimately to ignore what people are saying.
However one process that campaigners should be interested in is ‘Your Freedom’ where the government is asking for what laws and regulations they should get rid of. High up on my list would be parts of the Serious and Organised Crime Policing Act (SOCPA for short).
Much has been written about the restrictions placed on campaigning by SOCPA, the need to give 6 days notice to register to protest in Westminster, the arbitaroty 1 mile limit around Parliament and the way that its systematically made it harder to protest.Comedian Mark Thomas has shown the absurdity of much of the law, but the ‘Your Freedom’ consultation provides another way to reduce much of its impact.
Looking at the draft legislation, it repeals some of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 including the restriction of protests close to parliament. It also restricts CCTV use to investigation of serious crimes, repeals the 2005 Terrorism Act and restores the definition of a public assembly to 20 people rather than 2.
However, the draft does not as yet provide protection against the myriad other laws used to restrict campaigning – such as the Public Order Act (1986) which can be used to move the site of a protest, trespass laws used against people collecting petitions in shopping centres, harassment legislation that which bans “seeking to persuade someone not to do something that he is entitled or required to do” and terrorism legislation of 2006 which categorises non violent activists who damage property as terrorists.
The recent NCVO ‘Future Trends in Campaigning‘ publication highlighted the ‘marginalisation of dissent’ as a emerging trend for campaigners to address , so engaging with this consultation (whatever you think of its method) and also supporting the work of groups like BOND and NCVO in engaging on this should be hight up on the ‘to do’ list for campaigners to remove some these absurd laws to prevent this trend coming true.
Going forward it’ll be interesting to monitor the opportunities that the consultations provide to actually influence government policy. Campaigners should be watching to see how many of the most popular suggestiosn get acted upon, or just to see if it goes the same way as the Downing Street petition site which attracted some really pointless suggestions. As campaigners, they’re going to present both challengs and opportunities. New ways of inviting campaigners to use their voice, but formats that can be difficult to engage in (the Spending Challenge doesn’t have an option to let people say what they think should be kept for example) and are untested in terms of impact on government policy.