After a series of assaults on their ability to campaign, charity leaders today respond with a outlining the critical role of independent political pressure in a healthy democracy. At no time is this clearer than when the nation is engaged in the highest manifestation of the democratic process, a General Election.
‘Speaking frankly, acting boldly’ asserts that charities are a political necessity and that campaigning is integral to this. The ACEVO report is a clarion call for charity leaders to take courage from the convictions that inform their purpose and serve their beneficiaries.
It urges them to seize the opportunities presented by recent developments including the Prime Minister’s iteration of the importance of civil society, the dilution of the anti-advocacy clause and the comprehensive affirmation of the sector represented by the recent House of Lords Select Committee on Charities.
The report calls for the Prime Minister to restate the Government’s commitment to the Compact as a functioning policy guideline for central and local government and a guarantee of the right to campaign. It also calls on the Charity Commission to restate its explicit endorsement of the right of charities to campaign (CC9).
‘Speaking frankly, acting boldly’ serves as a reminder of the history of campaigning and the changes effected by charity campaigning, changes ranging from the abolition of slavery to the Disability Discrimination Act which are now embedded in the substance and ethics of everyday life.
ACEVO recommends that a formal record be made of campaigning case histories which highlight social, policy, environmental and legal reform ‘Speaking frankly, acting boldly’ says such a record would serve two purposes. First, to be a proud testament to the sector’s political contribution across the centuries. Second, to provide food for thought to those who might in future attempt to introduce legislation or guidance to restrict campaigning without due reflection.
ACEVO chief executive Vicky Browning says:
“Too often in recent years, legislation and guidance has been issued with little or no consultation with the sector. This, combined with other factors, has led to an undoubted ‘chilling effect’ in the sector. This has been evidenced by many observers ranging from Lord Hodgson to Lord Harries.
“It is now time for charities to dial up the temperature. As the recent House of Lords Select Committee on Charities reported: ‘charities are the eyes, ears and conscience of any society; advocacy is a central part of their work and a sign of a healthy democracy’.
“A timid sector, a cowed sector does not fully serve its beneficiaries or causes. That alone should give leaders the confidence to speak frankly and act boldly. It is understandable that the climate of recent years has damaged the confidence of many but there has never been a better time than now to restate our cases and rediscover our political but non-partisan voice.”
Commenting, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts said that campaigning is essential to the nation’s well-being:
“Third party campaigning, often involving open and vigorous debate, is an important part of our democratic life. However such campaigning needs to be conducted fairly and transparently and, equally, the laws governing it should be even handed and proportionate.
“With the twenty nine recommendations which formed the basis of my review on electoral campaigning I sought to achieve this delicate balance. I very much hope that time can be found in the reasonably near future to implement this package.”
Sue Tibballs OBE, the Chief Executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, said:
“Campaigning is an absolutely central function of civil society – arguably more important today than ever before given the scale of social challenges facing us. This report is timely and should serve as a clarion call to charities and voluntary organisations to speak up and campaign with vigour and confidence.”
You can read the full report here.