Charities need to stick up for themselves

The voluntary sector is getting bullied. It needs to start fighting back.

Ed Miliband isn’t the only one on the receiving end of an attempted character assassination. The voluntary sector has also been subject to a concerted campaign of criticism over the last few months from a number of different quarters.

In August, the Daily Telegraph published a series of articles on excessive charity chief executive pay. Whatever their substance, such  reports  are undoubtedly damaging for trust in charities, most of which pay their chief executives a perfectly reasonable salary for doing a difficult job.

Last month, Chris Grayling opened up another front. Writing in the Daily Mail he took explicit aim at the campaigning activity of charities and their use of the law to further campaigning objectives. He is not the only politician to take up this case, and the RSPCA, for example, has been criticised for what is  perceived to be an aggressive use of the law in their attempt to end cruelty to animals.

Charities have also been swept up in the ‘Transparency in Lobbying Bill’, fuelling fears that, in effect, campaigning will be outlawed in the period running up to an election. It may sound paranoid to bundle these issues together, but there are clear signs that a body of opinion not convinced that advocacy, policy or campaigning are legitimate charitable activities is gaining some currency.

Unlike Ed Miliband, the voluntary sector has not been vocal or effective in coming to its own defence. NCVO and others have scored a few tactical victories, over the provisions of the Transparency in Lobbying Bill, for example, but the sector more broadly has been unable or unwilling to clearly articulate its story about the right to campaign in a democratic society.

This is a similar problem to the one faced by charities in relation to fundraising, although here we’re looking at a problem of the sector’s own making. The direct marketing techniques that charities routinely employ – street fundraising, door-to-door collections, telephone campaigns etc – still work well, but they are not liked by many members of the public, and over time will undermine the brand of UK charities.

The public by and large still trust charities (a great deal more than they do politicians!), and there is a store of good will available, but by acting in their short-term individual interests charities are acting against their longer-term collective interest.

I heard a phrase coined by branding guru Wally Olins the other day: "individually strong, collectively weak". It seems to perfectly sum up the problem the voluntary sector faces: although we have many strong, effective and admirable charities in the UK, the sector is collectively weak. And if the political environment is becoming less hospitable for charities, then that is a very real concern.

As with all collective action problems it is not one person’s responsibility to fix it. I think this creates an interesting opportunity for philanthropists: it won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who believe in campaigning as a tool for social change there is a position here to take a lead in creating a collective voice for the sector, and even to do some of the speaking. Dan Pallotta has mooted the idea of an International Charity Defence League – why don’t we start right here in the UK?

Rob Abercrombie is director of research and consulting at NPC

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine

Children in a Red Cross camp. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.