Comment: Another perspective on campaigning

You could be forgiven for thinking there's a consensus in the sector that charities should be able to make political campaigning their dominant activity. Although loud voices are telling you this, not everyone agrees.

Nick Seddon
Nick Seddon

Campaigning is generally a left-wing thing. Right-wing charities and charities run by small-c conservatives comprise huge swathes of the sector, but most choose not to campaign. Perhaps they're scared of challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of the left. Maybe they regard activism as undignified - it's always entertaining to drop Bob Geldof into conversation with a conservative because his name's like a social hand grenade. Or perhaps they don't consider campaigning to be authentic - their concept of charity owes more to Burke's little platoons than Bono's big parades.

One implication of this is that, if right-wing parties aren't interested in being heard, an open season on political campaigning would lead to a skewed impression of the political priorities of the mythically homogeneous sector and the organisations within it. That is, it makes you think that Baroness Helena Kennedy's view of political campaigning - that there should be more of it - is more representative than that of Greg Clark, the shadow charities minister, who recently expressed unease about the Charity Commission rewriting its guidance on campaigning, CC9. But it isn't.

Another way of looking at this is that if political means party political, as to some degree it must, then New Labour is onto a winner. By allowing charities to campaign along political lines, it would harness a vast amount of political loyalty in the charity world.

As for allowing government to pay charities to campaign, I wonder whether the sector has taken leave of its senses. The average punter would take with a pinch of salt the message of a charity campaigning on pharmaceuticals with a budget drawn from GlaxoSmithKline. How is a charity campaigning on education with a budget from the Department for Children, Schools and Families any different?

Charities need to make sure they don't end up looking like Salacious Crumb, the snivelling creep that waits on Jabba the Hut in Star Wars. Campaigning should be radical and independent, right?

- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist 

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