On the campaign trail

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, chair of the advisory group on campaigning, says the climate is right for changing the rules for charities.

Baroness Helena Kennedy. Photo: Newscast
Baroness Helena Kennedy. Photo: Newscast

There's never been a better time to be a campaigner, according to Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the advisory group on campaigning and the voluntary sector.

"There are key moments when you can create change by pressing on the political pulse," she says. "A number of those moments are coming up, and we have to use them."

Kennedy is referring to the impending coronation of the country's next Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the eventual General Election.

Cynics may argue that these developments will produce little in the way of real change, but Kennedy genuinely believes that the tide is turning in favour of campaigning organisations.

"You have to be an optimist if you are a political campaigner," she says. "You have to believe in the possibility of change. The Charities Act 2006 means the definition of charities' aims has been widened and a new public benefit test has been created.

"A new culture has risen up - there's a new moment that needs to be seized."

The advisory group's review, published today, is based on evidence from 14 campaign groups and charities, including Oxfam, Greenpeace, Anti-Slavery International and Friends of the Earth.

It was prompted by the growing uncertainty about what charities can and can't do in the name of campaigning. "Charity lawyers were finding that their advice was increasingly being sought by organisations that were worried they would get into difficulty with their charitable status if they started a particular kind of campaign," explains Kennedy.

She argues that new Charity Commission guidance on campaigning, published last month, failed to reassure charities because the dominant/ancillary rule still applies. This means that charities can still engage in political campaigning only if it remains subordinate to their main activity.

"For bigger organisations, it is very easy to say that a political campaign is only an ancillary element of what they do," she says. "But if you are a very small charity, it would be much easier to fall foul of the rule. Because there's such a fuzzy sense of what charities are allowed to do in terms of campaigning, it's acting as an inhibitor on people's engagement, which isn't healthy for a democracy."

Kennedy wants to see charities campaign more extensively in order to serve their beneficiaries better. She passionately believes that campaigning charities can and must shape the future political landscape.

"There's been a huge shift in our world in that there is now far less interest in belonging to political parties and less engagement in formal politics," she explains. "People are very active in civil society and are actually very political, but not with a big 'p'.

"They do, however, care about their local communities or having decent food in schools, and will campaign on all manner of things."

Politicians are often accused of being out of touch, and this is where Kennedy says campaigners are perfectly placed to change the status quo.

"People's involvement in single-issue campaigns is the fertile soil from which politicians will grow," she says.

Kennedy is clearly determined to see the advisory group's report recommendations translated into action. "We have to take by the throat old-fashioned politicians who don't understand how the world has changed," she says. "This is not about giving money to charity - it's about actively wanting to see change taking place. Campaigning has to be part of it."

Kennedy CV

2005: Chair, the Rowntree Trust's Power Inquiry on political
Made a life peer
1992: Chair, Charter88 campaign for constitutional reform
Called to the bar, Gray's Inn

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +

Latest Jobs

RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners


Expert Hub

Insurance advice from Markel

Cyber and data security - how prepared is your charity?

With a 35 per cent rise in instances of data breaches in Q2 and Q3 last year, charities must take cyber security seriously

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now