In this magazine a couple of weeks ago, a number of prominent figures seized on a survey by The Right Ethos, a specialist recruitment consultancy for campaigning organisations, which announced that 45 per cent of the campaigners it found jobs for are Liberal Democrat supporters, 31 per cent Labour, 19 per cent Conservative and 5 per cent Green.
"This challenges the view that voluntary sector campaigners are biased towards Labour," said Brian Lamb, a member of the Advisory Group on Campaigning and the Voluntary Sector. Others, including Claire McMaster of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, also welcomed the findings, which appeared to indicate, as Jonathan Ellis of the Refugee Council put it, "a good cross-section of people with different political affiliations".
It's not that balanced. Add together Liberal Democrats and Labour, and 76 per cent of the sector positions itself on the left of the political spectrum. But aside from this cavil, there is a more serious question: how did The Right Ethos reach its conclusion? By looking at the CVs of candidates on its database, of which there are 550, and taking those who mentioned their involvement with a political party, of which there were 80, and totting up the percentages. This is hardly credible as research.
The sample is unweighted - we have no idea what parts of the sector candidates represent, or where they come from. And it is self-selecting - people who apply to this organisation, then those who choose to declare political affiliation. It is also tiny.
The volume, scope and quality of data in the sector is patchy enough already. It's getting better, with people realising the need to chart accurately and dispassionately the dimensions of the sector and conduct methodologically robust surveys. So why go backwards?
The Right Ethos press release included comments about the shifting political patterns of the sector made by one Jonathan Dearth. Sorry for getting personal, but in my view his surname is an unfortunately apt commentary on the amount of useful information here.
- Nick Seddon is an author and journalist: firstname.lastname@example.org