Editorial: The election may have been called off, but the issues remain the same

Once the party conference season was over, was it going to be business as usual or a General Election? For a while, the election seemed a certainty, with Labour supremely confident and the Tories running scared.

Then Gordon Brown went to Basra, the mood began to change and opinion swung the other way. So last weekend, with the bickering troops trailing back down the hill, the Prime Minister announced, unconvincingly, that there would be no election because he wanted to get on with his vision.

This episode has taken the early shine off Brown's premiership and is bound to have extensive repercussions for him, the Labour Party and the country. If he had gone for and won an election, he could have started again with his own mandate and a clean sheet. As it is, he will have to continue remaking the policies of his predecessor, trying to turn them in the direction he wants to go. And all the while the economy is likely to be getting more problematic, accidents will happen and the window for the next election will get tighter.

What are the implications for the voluntary sector? Had the election gone ahead, it would have been unrealistic to suggest that specific policies affecting the sector would in themselves have been big winners or losers of votes. Their importance would rather have been in the mood music - setting the tone about the kind of society the main political parties wished to call into being.

All of them have realised that for decades the levers of power in Whitehall have failed to reverse our society's gradual and seemingly inexorable loss of things we would all prefer to have - community and family cohesion, along with respect, care and tolerance for others and all that implies for our systems of social security and criminal justice. They see that some parts of the sector have managed to do things that buck that trend, and they want to find a way to capitalise on that and have some of the magic rub off on them.

So Labour would have campaigned on its substantial record of fostering the sector, plus its proposal to make political campaigning easier for charities (Third Sector, 3 October). The Tories would have argued against relaxing the political campaigning rules and pledged legislation to stop governments raiding the lottery; they might also have added further proposals from Breakthrough Britain, the report issued by Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice.

Without an election, expect the same scenario to evolve, but with less urgency: the Government continuing to implement a creditable range of initiatives, all parties trying to profit from positive association with the sector and one or two bones of contention being fought out. The most interesting of the latter will be political campaigning. Baroness Kennedy's advisory group on campaigning thinks the "inherently political" provisions of the 2006 Charities Act mean the Charity Commission can revise its guidance to allow charities to "engage exclusively in political campaigning in furtherance of their charitable purposes" without running into trouble with case law. The commission's elucidatory Q&A on campaigning in April held back from doing that, but since then Gordon Brown has arrived and endorsed the Kennedy approach. Now the commission is going to think again and report in November.

Stephen Cook is editor of Third Sector

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now