There has been a Twitter storm overnight, after remarks about charity campaigning made by our new Minister for Civil Society at a Conference yesterday. Initially reported in Civil Society, the comments then surfaced on the Guardian front page and in the Mirror, Telegraph and Independent. Like many who saw the reports of his words, I was surprised to say the least.
The Charity Commission explicitly protects the right of charities to be political but not to be partisan. It is our age-old duty to help our beneficiaries and causes both by delivering services and advocating with them and on their behalf. There is of course confusion in some parts about what exactly the boundary is between being ‘political’ and being ‘partisan’ - the former being intrinsic to charities’ role in alleviating and preventing injustice and suffering, the latter being the role of political parties. But to be fair to our new Minister, though he might have been more careful in what he said in the context of all the rows on the Lobbying Act, he did take pains to clarify what he meant in a subsequent tweet.
My meeting was in fact very positive. We discussed the importance of continuing to press for public service reform and the role of sector organisations in providing citizen - and community-focused public services which are also more cost effective, as well as the need for the sector to organise itself better through consortia and alliances.
And we finished by discussing how we can develop leadership in our sector; a subject on which I found him passionate and engaged. We both agreed on the essential difference leadership makes to organisations and how key that is both to the strategic direction of organisations, and to their operational resilience. I was outlining some of the ideas we have at ACEVO for new programmes for leadership support for aspiring and ambitious CEOs.
So, my judgment is we have an ally in our new Minister. He is not attacking our right to campaign, and we can take his words as encouragement to keep ‘speaking truth to power.’ The twittersphere can calm down!
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