JLC Head of Policy and Research Claudia Mendoza discusses charities rights to campaign.
In his first speech as Minister for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark provoked controversy by saying that charities should “stick to their knitting” and stay out of the “realm of politics”. There was backlash from the Third Sector with many tweeting to ridicule his comments, using the twitter hash tag #stickingtomyknitting.
At a time when campaigning by charities is under the spotlight, we need to explain why it is so vital charities are able to campaign and raise awareness of issues in order to further their charitable purposes. New legislation in the form of the Lobbying Act – which has just come into effect – has made many charities anxious given the complicated guidance from the Electoral Commission on what constitutes regulated campaigning activity in the run up to the general election. It is important that the right of charities to speak out on matters which affect their beneficiaries is reaffirmed, not further blurred.
Brooks Newmark’s claim that people don’t give charities money to “stray into the realm of politics” is simply incorrect. Many people give charities money precisely for that reason. As well as being service providers, many charities play an important role in raising awareness among the general public and in parliament on specific issues and to help to inform policy. Many of our members are charities and their role in our democracy is vital.
Thankfully, Mr Newmark has since clarified his comments to highlight that he was referring to the fact that charities should not be engaged in party political activity, rather than political activity per se. Strict rules regarding charities engaging in party political activity already exist - they are not allowed to do it.
With the introduction of the Lobbying Act, a piece of legislation whose effects are still far from clear, it is important that charities remain confident in their missions and for politicians to recognise our vital role in democracy.
Update: Not related to this incident, Brooks Newmark has since resigned as Minister for Civil Society. He has been replaced by Rob Wilson.