Susannah Birkwood: Four things we learned from the Conservative conference

Third Sector's senior reporter rounds up her conference highs and lows

Susannah Birkwood
Susannah Birkwood

1) The fantastic (missing) Mr Wilson

Acevo, the Charities Aid Foundation and the think tank Common Vision all hosted events tackling charity sector issues this year, but Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, was nowhere to be found at any of them. He did show up at a private breakfast event hosted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, but sources say he arrived late, stayed for 15 minutes and had nothing much to say. Oh dear. Have relations with the sector become that bad…?

2) Gin and tonic and some poverty, please

The ban on champagne at the Tory conference might have been lifted in 2015, but it was another drink that pulled in the punters this year. The Spectator and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation served free gin and tonic at their lunchtime fringe event and had politicians and charity folk alike queueing out of the door. Either that, or it was the promise of "solving poverty the Conservative way" – which, apparently, does not involve state-subsided gin.

3) Where can I hire a Tory?

It was, by and large, a big love-in between the sector and the Tories this year. Nothing to do with them being the party in power, I’m sure. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Frank Sooden told a CAF fringe event that he’d love to hire a Tory to his public affairs team, although he’d been told he’d need to pay an extra £20k to attract one. (Apparently, they all love money.) Nick Mason of the social impact firm Aleron went one step further and boasted about the days he was the only Tory working at Amnesty International and the sight-loss charity the RNIB. Even Friends of the Earth, which last year called Tory party members "swivel-eyed loons" was there, calling for the sector to rebuild relations with the party.

4) Charity policy will now be decided by Gina Miller

Well, not quite. But it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Number 10’s new special adviser on charities, announced at the NCVO’s private breakfast event last Monday, shared some of the controversial philanthropist’s views on the sector. Charlotte Lawson, who is charged with developing the government's relationship with charities, worked with Miller for two years. Third Sector can’t wait to interview her – she will no doubt challenge our preconceptions.

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