2008: The Munchkins Need Feeding
In 2008, Gordon Brown changed the rules so charities could join political campaigns. In theory, they could support any party but as Brown knew, very few charities would use the new powers to demand smaller taxes. It was a masterstroke. Many charities are stuffed to the gunwales with Labour Party placemen an action completed by Gordon Brown before he left office aimed at preserving the political clout of the Party. Britain’s charities nurture a colourful, talented and efficient anti-Tory alliance.
Charities are hungry monsters that need ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers money to support their charitable ambitions and around 27,000 are dependent on the government for 75% or more of their funding. Without this cash, many would collapse. Claims are made that nearly 90p in every pound donated is spent on “charitable activities” but the reality is that at least 50% of donations are spent on management, strategy development, research studies, campaigning and fundraising not what reasonable people would consider good causes.
2012: Brown’s secret army could defeat the Tory/Libdem Coalition welfare and education reforms
Long after the 2010 General Election election defeat came to the realization that Brown really was a clever planner. In his last two years in office, he started preparing for a new kind of opposition. Labour might be turfed out of government, but it would carry on the fight through charities, quangos and think tanks. At one time Brown had a team in Downing Street devoted to appointments in public bodies, carefully building what would become a kind of government-in-exile. If the Tories tried anything radical like welfare reform then Labour’s new fifth columnists would strike.
Another clever move by Brown was his deal with the unions which was tumbled when government ministers observed trade union officials armed with security passes entering their departments. Investigations revealed that from the NHS to the MoD, civil servants were effectively being paid by the Government to work for the trade unions. It all added up to (revealed by the Tax Payers’ Alliance) a staggering 3,000 union officials being funded by the taxpayer. It was in effect a subsidy of around £86m to the unions, which they donated to the Labour Party. An ingenious scam. Brown took side bets that Cameron would not bother to dismantle the scheme and he was right. So the Labour Party entered a new golden era of preferment. But the Tory Party would hit back. (The Guardian)
2013: The Tories gag the charities
The Tory Party’s controversial lobbying bill, otherwise known as the “charity gagging bill” was rushed through parliament with unseemly haste. The intention was to limit the ability of non-profit charities and similar groups to campaign on issues of public interest. Specifically, the amount charities, unions and campaign groups are permitted to spend on work that might have a political impact in the 12 months prior to an election was cut by over 60%.
At the same time, the definition of electoral expenses was broadened from the cost of election-related leaflets and posters to include many other costs such as staff wages and other overheads, so a reduced budget was needed to cover a great deal more. The hugely increased bureaucratic burden is particularly onerous for small, local campaign groups, and a lack of clarity on which aspects of specific activities count as electoral led to the Electoral Commission describing the changes as unworkable.
And the restrictions do not only apply to explicit party endorsements. Campaigning for a new hospital or against one being closed, for or against a new bypass, free school or bird sanctuary, or any issue on which politicians or their parties have expressed a view, is electioneering, and the government intends that the electorate will be doing a lot less of it. And what about the new rules and corporate lobbyists? They are unaffected. Large companies are not reliant on elections and public opinion to sway politicians. They gain results from informal one-to-one chats in corporate hospitality boxes, fact-finding missions to exotic locations, and the occasional quiet country supper.
So long as there is an absence of a lobbying transparency bill the best hope the public has of discovering who is influencing their elected representatives is constant questioning and probing from charities and campaign groups. And the best hope for causes that might be opposed by big money interests is those same charities and campaign groups. And so at a stroke, the charity gagging bill removed the single biggest restriction on the power of corporate lobbyists and replaced it with a register covering less than 20% of the industry a percentage that was reduced further as companies avoided scrutiny by taking their lobbying in-house. The bill privileged undemocratic, behind the scenes influence over open, public debate. The Tory Party delivered the next great political scandal. A piece of legislation intended as a watchdog for corporate lobbyists, stopping them from hijacking legislation was hijacked by corporate lobbyists. (The Guardian)
2014: Tories condemn the revolving door
Half of Gordon Brown’s special advisors in the last Labour Government are working for charities or left of centre think tanks, many of which now spend their time lobbying the government. Figures show that 11 out of the 25 special advisers who worked directly for Gordon Brown in 2009 now work for supposedly neutral think tanks or charities many of which speak out against the Government or lobby ministers to change laws.
The media disclosed that one such organisation the Institute of Public Policy Research, once dubbed Tony Blair’s favourite think tank is being informally investigated by the charity watchdog for its close links to the Labour Party. There is also increasing concern among Tories that charities and think tanks are being used as vehicles for a pro-Labour agenda. Tory MPs said there was evidence of a “revolving door” between Labour and charities.
The Justice Secretary is concerned that supposedly neutral charities and think tanks are being misused saying: “An extraordinary number, moreover, are drawn from the ranks of the Labour Party. If you read through the CVs of its candidates a substantial proportion have worked for pressure groups and as trade union campaigners. It’s now the career route of choice. they use that platform to attack the Government and make their name, lining up alongside former special advisers, MPs and councillors to argue for more spending, or to spread scare stories that are often exaggerated or wholly untrue.” Adding: “Britain’s professional campaigners are growing in number sending emails around the country, flocking around Westminster, dominating BBC programmes, and usually articulating a Left-wing vision which is neither affordable nor deliverable and wholly at odds with the long-term economic plan this Government has worked so hard to put in place.” (The Telegraph)
2015: Labour to put charities back at the heart of society
The reality of the Tories “Big Society” is evidenced by ever-lengthening queues at food banks, run by overstretched charities dealing with the fallout from its political choices. The Lobbying Act, supposed to bring more transparency to the lobbying industry and politics instead restricted the ability of charities and campaigners to speak out. Judicial review is much restricted, employment tribunal fees have been hiked and legal aid has been slashed. Charities and other civil society groups act as a buffer between the individual and the state and consistently speak truth to power. Society needs the strong voice of charities at the heart of society. (Huffington Post)