The Reform Section 5 campaign persuaded the Government to accept a House of Lords amendment that got rid of the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act. It was a major victory for free speech.
The latest in a long list of Government u-turns that Summer, the victory was by no means certain and had it not been for the eclectic group of supporters, this pernicious law would still be on the statute books.
At the Parliamentary launch, the campaign brought together MPs from the three main parties, including senior backbenchers Edward Leigh and David Davis who both took a frontline role, the Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and Peter Tatchell.
It was with this broad church of support, along with the strategic guidance from MIP, that the campaign was able to reach out to hundreds of volunteers, think tanks, politicians, and most importantly the media.
The media, in particular the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and BBC, ensured that the debate around this stopped being just between a handful of people in the Village, but reached out to ordinary people, who took notice, ridiculed the legislation and then demanded change.
Our strategy combined conventional political and media outreach with the use of imaginative stunts. Too often, those of us who work in PR find our hands tied, or a resistance to taking bold action, but in Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute, MIP had a Campaign Director whose only question was, why not?
When we came up with the bizarre idea of dressing someone up in a pantomime horse outfit to accompany Peter Tatchell, who was dressed as a police officer in a demo outside the Home Office, the only question was when do we want to do this?
Of course there were more serious and solemn events, including a parliamentary reception with comedian Rowan Atkinson, who criticised the legislation for having a “chilling effect on freedom of speech,” viewed more than 310,000 times on You Tube. But Reform Section 5 had to constantly create new angles to keep the message live.
But with a wide coalition of supporters, support of the media and imaginative stunts, MIP maximised the chances of changing the law and ultimately secured victory.