Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, has raised concerns about campaigns that "hide behind a veneer of neutral non-partisanship" and criticised organisations including the Howard League for Penal Reform for speaking out against government policy.
In an article in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, published yesterday, Grayling also raised questions over what he called the high proportion of Labour parliamentary candidates that used to work for pressure groups, including charities.
"Britain’s professional campaigners are growing in number: sending emails around the country, flocking around Westminster, dominating BBC programmes and usually articulating a left-wing vision that is neither affordable nor deliverable – and wholly at odds with the long-term economic plan this government has worked so hard to put in place," he wrote. "An extraordinary number, moreover, are drawn from the ranks of the Labour Party. If you read through the CVs of its candidates in 2015, a substantial proportion have worked for pressure groups and as trade union campaigners.
"It’s now the career route of choice: they can use that platform to attack this government and make their name, lining up alongside former special advisers, MPs and councillors to argue for more spending, or to spread scare stories that are often exaggerated or wholly untrue."
He said that "one of the most prominent Labour-supporting pressure group leaders", Frances Crook of the crime reduction charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, had criticised what Grayling called common-sense government plans to introduce a fixed bedtime for teenagers in youth offender institutions.
In response to Grayling’s article, Crook said the charity was impartial and non-aligned. "Government ministers should be more grown up in taking criticism on the chin," she said. "When it is legitimate and well-founded criticism, governments should review and improve policies.
"Democracy is founded on learning from debate. The Howard League will not be defamed by one party or purloined by another."
The Sunday Telegraph published a news story alongside the article that said 11 of 25 special advisers to Gordon Brown’s Labour government in 2009 had moved to roles at think tanks or charities. These, it said, included Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children UK, and Nick Pearce, director of IPPR North, part of the charitable think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.
The Charity Commission said today that it was assessing concerns about the IPPR after Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, wrote to the regulator in June alleging that the charity was too close to the Labour Party and had broken rules on political neutrality.
The IPPR denied the claims, said its work was freely available to all and that it held events with people from all the main political parties.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said today: "We can confirm that we have a case open assessing concerns raised with us about the Institute for Public Policy Research in June regarding the charity’s approach to working with political parties.
"We have requested a range of information from the trustees, who have responded in detail. We are currently assessing their response."
Grayling’s article said: "We have a big challenge ahead if we are to win the next election. But we must remember what we are trying to beat. It’s not just about preventing a return to the days of tax, spend and borrowing.
"It’s about resisting a mentality that would do real damage to our country. It’s one held by the kind of people Ed Miliband has shown time and again he can’t stand up to, whose demands you’d end up footing the bill for. These are the people trying their best to get him into Downing Street. We must not let them succeed."