The voluntary sector has become just another front in Cameron’s clampdown on free speech

At times it seems like this government are doing everything they can to shut down criticism of them.

Whether it’s Lobbying Act (which did little to restrict lobbyists but instead seemed more interested in charities and trade unions) or the Trade Union Bill (which is working its way through the Lords but threatens to do so much damage to our movement) this government are experts in drafting legislation designed to silence their opponents.

It’s all part of a troubling anti-democratic streak that runs through this government’s behaviour, tweaking, stretching and breaking the rules to give their party an undue advantage.

Cutting “short money” for opposition parties. Changing boundaries to give themselves a great advantage for a relatively meagre vote. Attacking the historic link between the Labour Party and the movement which established it.

And now comes another attack to gag and restrict civil society from campaigning against this government’s weakness, failures and oversight – gagging charities from  campaigning with funds received from government.

The knock on impact of such a gagging clause would be stark. Charities could be forced to choose between much needed grants and meeting their charitable objectives. Some organisations won’t even be able to speak to MPs about important local developments, work with ministers on their policy areas, speak at select committees they’re called to – or even respond to government consultations.

These plans have, understandably, been hit with considerable resistance from the charitable sector. More than 130 charity heads have written to the Prime Minister calling on him to rethink his plans, umbrella group the NCVO said that this was “tantamount to making charities take a vow of silence”, and many have warned that these plans (which are sold as a money saving move) may actually cost the government money.

That’s because despite the government’s claims to the contrary, this is about gagging charities and charity workers from necessary scrutiny of their actions.

When he first became leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron once said he wanted to “set free the voluntary sector”. Now the voluntary sector has become just another front in his government’s clampdown on free speech.