We like to congratulate ourselves in Britain for being a tolerant country that treasures our tradition of freedom of speech.
It is other states that silence dissent, stifle democracy and intimidate opponents.
You would not expect, for example, the UK Government to bring in rules that gag people from speaking out during elections.
Nor would you expect threats to silence or fine campaigners if they seek to highlight issues which could embarrass the Government.
All would agree such actions would be intolerable and contrary to a healthy democracy.
Yet that is exactly what has happened. In Britain. In the Mother of Parliaments.
The Electoral Commission, the watchdog charged with policing our election laws and party finances, has written to Greenpeace ordering it to register as a third party.
If Greenpeace does not register then the Commission has given warning it will issue a “stop notice” forbidding the charity from taking part in activity deemed to be political.
To explain this extraordinary diktat we need to go back to the 2014 Lobbying Act which amended the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
The Lobbying Act was brought in by David Cameron following concerns about the influence of lobbyists and big money in government.
Sensing an opportunity, Cameron used the legislation to tighten the rules on trade union funding and limit the activity of charitable organisations.
The glaring hole in the Act was the one it was supposed to have filled with concrete – there was nothing to prevent big firms from using in-house lobbying teams to pressure government ministers.
There were several warnings at the time that the legislation would have a chilling effect on free speech.
The Act limits the amount a charity can spend during an election before having to register with the Commission to £20,000 in England and £10,000 in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
If you want an idea of how cowered organisations have become as a result of this law you should look at the reaction to Theresa May’s social care plans.
One charity would only offer a statement to the media if journalists specifically approached it for a comment.
It concluded that sending out a general release would breach the terms of the Act.
It is obvious that one of the consequences of these rules is it stifles criticism of government policies.
Those who seek to highlight poverty, homelessness or child hunger – all areas where the Conservatives have a poor record – are constrained from speaking out during an election.
There was also a major flaw in the legislation.
The updated Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) was introduced on the assumption there were fixed term parliaments.
This meant charities could apportion their spending to take into account of the designated election period.
The Electoral Commission stipulates this period as the 12 months before polling day, so for this election it covers from June 9 2016 to June 9 2017.
Many organisations took Theresa May at her word when she said, repeatedly, there would be no snap general election and spent money on campaigning believing it would be outside the regulated period.
Greenpeace, whose campaigns are not party political, was one of these organisations but it has now been told by the Electoral Commission it must account for any expenditure since June 9 2016 in case it exceeds the £20,000 limit.
In a letter to Greenpeace, the Commission warns of consequences if the charity refuses to comply.
“If Greenpeace does not comply with legal requirements set out in PPERA you may be subject to civil or criminal sanction. We will be monitoring the election campaign and exercising our regulatory functions, and if appropriate our enforcement powers, to ensure it is conducted in line with the PPERA rules.
“Please note that this includes the power to issue a stop notice in the event of activity that we reasonably believe either is seriously damaging to, or poses a significant risk of seriously damaging, public confidence in the effectiveness of the PPERA controls on the income and expenditure of non-party campaigners.
“A stop notice requires an organisation or individual not to begin or to cease an activity.”
There is a Kafka-esque quality to this letter.
Greenpeace is being denied the right to exercise a full role in an election and stands accused of acting illegally because it did not have the foresight to realise the Prime Minister could break her word on when that election would be held.
An independent report into the 2015 general election by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement found the Lobbying Act had muffled the voice of charities.
“Many activities aimed at raising awareness and generating discussion ahead of the election have not taken place,” the Commission concluded.
This week the Electoral Commission revealed the Tories had received £5.5million in donations from January to March this year.
The Conservatives can afford to have a voice, charities cannot.