I came across a small article in this weekend’s Sunday Times and thought and nearly choked on my morning muesli. The government is planning to change legislation to allow charities to ‘become political’. In other words they can make political activity their dominant work if they wish, being currently restricted from any political activity at all.
If I was an activist I’d be creaming myself. In fact, for reasons that will soon eventually become clear, I am creaming myself over this.
1) It would allow major charities to lobby, campaign against or support politicians. Of course it would be beneficial to think-tanks like the Smith Institute, which the Tories are worried about, but this is being short-sighted. Imagine if major memberships groups like Greenpeace or the RSPCA started flexing their muscles and sent their members a rate card of how local politicians did on particular issues? Imagine the bargaining power. The Green Party could set up an alliance with WWF / Greenpeace etc for example and become a serious player.
2) Inevitably this would go even further. Rather than working with single-issue charities to lobby politicians or parties, activists could set up charities explicitly to support a party or an ideological line and ask for donations on that basis. America already has huge Political Action Committees (PACs) which do this (like the liberal group MoveOn.org). We would inevitably see a spurt of charities on both the left and right to raise finance and spend it without being constricted in the way political parties are.
The long-term impact of this legislation could be huge. In the United States the political landscape would be completely different without such regulation. I’m surprised more hasn’t been said about this.
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Filed in: Party politics