A new group is being established to enable Conservative Party supporters with an interest in charities to share ideas about issues affecting the sector.
The group, tentatively called Conservative Friends of the Third Sector, is being set up by Nick Mason, a fundraising strategy consultant who was the Conservative parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Jarrow in this year’s general election, coming third behind Labour and Ukip.
Speaking to Third Sector at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Tuesday, Mason, who was head of fundraising strategy at the sight-loss charity the RNIB until this year, said he was forming the group to give a voice to Conservatives who worked in charities and might have a different perspective on the role of charities from other people in the sector.
"My view is that within that 750,000 people who work in the voluntary sector, there is a sufficiently large number of Conservatives who actually have a different perspective on what the sector should do and how it should be represented," he said. "We’re trying to make sure they have a means to come together."
Mason said the group would be similar in form to Conservative Friends of International Development, a forum through which Conservatives get together to share ideas on promoting effective international development.
He said that Colin Bloom, the party’s director of outreach, had been supportive of the idea and several party members had expressed an interest in taking part, although he had not yet spoken to Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, about it.
Mason said that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations had been enthusiastic when approached, "because they recognise that there isn’t a particularly organised right-wing perspective challenging some of the normal views that are held on charities". But he said the body would be unlikely to support the initiative in public because it had to remain impartial.
The group currently had three committee members, Mason said, who were all charity professionals, but it intended to increase this number and eventually invite Conservative MPs and peers to be part of it.
Mason said it aimed to hold its first public event by the end of the year. Beyond this, he said, it planned to hold regular meetings, host events at the Conservative Party conference, contribute articles to publications and conduct research to support Conservative theories of change. Mason said he would raise money from within the Conservative Party to support these activities.
Describing his motivation for setting up the initiative, he said that action needed to be taken to prevent the self-fulfilling prophecy emerging whereby people with right-wing views entered the sector and ended up feeling there was no space for their views to be voiced. "They feel they cannot challenge the left-wing orthodoxy because it will limit their careers, so they leave, and then Conservatives wond why it is that charities are left-wing.
"There are a lot of Tories within charities who would like to paint a different story."
Mason added: "The role of charities and the state is at least as well understood by the right as by the left. I realise that I’m not speaking for everyone in the population, but that’s my view. So I want us to be able to challenge the ways that charities fit into the political firmament by saying there are different ways of doing things.
"My understanding is that, historically, the voluntary sector has almost been more connected with the Conservative Party than with the Labour Party. The Labour Party tends to believe the state is the solution; the Conservative Party tends to take a more mixed-economy view of the state, the private sector and the voluntary sector."
Mason said that Conservative-minded charity professionals interested in getting involved in the group, whether or not they are currently party members, should email email@example.com.