The charity sector faces a more hostile attitude from the press and parliament than it has in a decade, Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the chief executives body Acevo, has warned his members.
In an email bulletin sent to all Acevo members, Bubb warned that charities were facing pressure to reduce their campaigning, but should not be dissuaded from speaking up on important issues.
"There is a sinister agenda backed by those that want to clamp down on charity campaigning and charity independence," Bubb told Third Sector. "It’s become quite a hostile environment in a way that I haven’t experienced for a decade.
"I’ve warned my members that this is the start of an election period in which charities might be targeted, and it could get much worse," said Bubb, who has been head of Acevo since 2000.
He said that examples of negative attitudes towards charity included clauses in the lobbying bill that would restrict the ability of charities to campaign, as well as vocal comments by backbenchers opposed to lobbying by charities.
He also cited negative articles in right-wing newspapers about charity chief executive pay and about individual charities such as the RSPCA and the National Trust.
Bubb said that "the most pernicious example" was a recent Chris Grayling speech in which he promised that "professional" campaign groups would be restricted in their ability to use judicial reviews.
A consultation to change the law to bring this into effect was launched earlier this month.
Grayling claimed in his speech that charities "inundate Westminster with campaign material" and "target the legal system as a way of trying to get their policies accepted". He suggested the law should be changed to make this more difficult.
Bubb said that a hardline attitude from Westminster and the right-wing press had encouraged others to complain.
"I think that a lot of people with a grudge have been emboldened," he said. "Because parliament and the press have complained, they feel it’s now permitted."