Stern letters no protest against the Lobbying Act

Conference season is upon us and with it the decreasing number of charities which still ‘do’ policy work are busy collecting train-miles from Brighton to Manchester (with a quick stop at the Lib-Dems in Bournemouth for the most optimistic).

I’ve long been sceptical about charity involvement in party conferences, typically concluding that being briefly in a room with a Minister does not equate to success, and sharing snippets with other charities can be more efficiently achieved elsewhere.

That’s not to say that lobbying, opportunist or planned, should not be a vital function of any welfare organisation working from the UK – which makes the widely condemned Lobbying Act probably the biggest Political issue facing charities in recent times. (Read how David Brindle believes this law is stifling charities in The Guardian).

Everyone involved in the world of charity (and Lord Hodgson) seems to agree that the ‘gagging law’ is ill-thought-out, poorly executed, and morally wrong. Despite this, the Government is not going to review it – a decision which illustrates quite how ineffective the charity ‘sector’ is in influencing the right hand side of our political system (and also how much work delivering Brexit is going to take).

It also reflects something of much greater concern: the lack of radical voices in civil society.

Charities were once a breeding ground for innovation, radical thinking and challenge to authority, specifically Government – the voices of people unable to speak for themselves. With the notable exception of Greenpeace (who actively ignored the ‘illiberal’ law), the response from charities to having their own voices clipped has been a series of increasingly stern but ultimately ineffective letters.

It seems clear that this legislation is stopping some charities speaking out on behalf of vulnerable people who don’t have a voice. Yet some charities are so much part of the establishment that they feel unable to act outside of it. The days of a collection of coersive charities leading a powerful protest seem long gone. For that, the sector, if such a thing truly exists, is all the poorer.