Finding time to blog is an eternal challenge but I couldn’t let news of the government’s latest attempt to silence charities pass without comment.
Let’s be clear: the ban on charities using government grants to lobby government and Parliament is, in terms of ill-thought out, heavy-handed and short-sighted policymaking, a fine example of the genre. However, it does not amount to a total ban on campaigning, lobbying and influencing by charities and we should be careful not to convince ourselves that it does.
Two weeks on from the election we’re all taking stock of who’s in, who’s out and what the new Conservative majority government in Westminster means for our influencing work.
In the midst of drawing up contact lists and securing early meetings with the newly elected MPs you wish to convert to your cause, don’t forget to spend some time reflecting on what the election result means for charity campaigning in the round. Now is the time to let Government know how the Lobbying Act affected your campaigning. It is also vital to continue making a positive case for charity campaigning in anticipation of the Charity Commission review of its guidance on campaigning and political activity by charities.
There’s been much media coverage in recent days commemorating Emily Wilding Davison’s death following her collision with the King’s horse at Epsom in 1913. The centenary of that event has prompted comment about the suffragettes, their role in gaining votes for women and what contemporary campaigners might learn from them.
Like most feminists, I am in awe of the suffragettes and what they were prepared to do for my sake, and the sake of all women in the UK who are now able to exercise their democratic right to vote. However, I am perturbed and concerned that the enormous contribution of moderate suffrage campaigners, such as Millicent Fawcett, has largely been left out of current discourse. It seems to me that this might be an example of how some of us have a tendency to romanticise protest and direct action, and to marginalise or ignore the role of moderate campaigners who prefer to use constitutional methods in pursuit of social change. Alongside paying homage to the suffragettes, I also want to celebrate the considerable achievements of Millicent Fawcett, the woman who led the parliamentary campaign for women’s suffrage and was instrumental in gaining votes for women.
Last month I attended the excellent People Power conference organised by SMK (the Sheila McKechnie Foundation) in association with the Good Agency. Throughout the day I was struck by a recurring theme: what is the appropriate balance for charities to strike between working for or on behalf of the people they represent, as opposed to working with people when it comes to campaigning? The language may seem unimportant but the difference between these ways of working is significant. Are too many charities using old fashioned, slightly paternalistic models of campaigning on behalf of people? Are some charities slow to catch up with the apparent rise in grassroots campaigning?
Campaigners in the business of influencing public services will soon find the world turned upside down. One of the defining features of the Coalition– its intention to shift power from central government to local government and communities – is prompting big changes. Campaigners need to understand those changes and how to respond to them. Tried and tested campaign tactics will cease to yield the results they once did. The localism agenda is reshaping the campaigning environment and if you don’t change with it, you will find yourself without influence.