CAMPAIGNERS fighting the so-called gagging law have laid to rest freedom of speech in a symbolic ceremony designed to catch the attention of Stroud MP Neil Carmichael.

The protesters want the Conservative politician to vote against the controversial Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill when it returns to the House of Commons for consideration in the New Year.

On Saturday, November 30, they held a demonstration in Stroud High Street to ratchet up the pressure on Mr Carmichael to vote against the bill, which opponents say is intended to shield the Coalition from criticism by stifling free speech in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

The legislation, which is currently being scrutinised by peers in the House of Lords, imposes a £390,000 cap on the amount of money any organisation can spend on campaigning during a UK general election.

Government ministers say the bill will make lobbying more transparent and is needed to take the big money out of politics but critics claim it will restrict the activities of trade unions and charitable organisations.

Diana Basterfield, who organised the weekend protest, said: “I find it really scary that in one of the oldest democracies in the world the Government is trying to shut public opinion up in the year before a general election.

“This smacks of totalitarianism and I don't like it one bit. We must persuade our MP to change his mind and vote against the bill when it returns to the House of Commons.”

Speaking to the SNJ in October, Mr Carmichael, who has so far supported the bill, said: “This new legislation is certainly not going to limit freedom of speech or make any difference to the role of charities. It is all about making sure that any campaigns are fully transparent.”

On Thursday, December 12, the Tory MP will attend a public meeting at The Old Town Hall in The Shambles, Stroud, to discuss the bill with freedom of speech campaigners. The meeting gets underway at 7.15pm.