Campaigning restrictions, policy priorities and initial reactionsOriginally published: April 2017
Theresa May surprised the U.K. by announcing a call for a general election on 8 June 2017. This will be the second general election in two years. Despite previously insisting that a general election wouldn't be necessary until 2020, the prime minister has called for a general election on the basis that it'll strengthen Brexit negotiations and that "strong leadership" is needed to ensure a successful outcome in leaving the EU and taking the country in a new direction after Brexit — both at home and abroad.
All parties will be working on their party manifestos for the upcoming election. Given the lack of time to prepare, it's likely that the focus will be on Brexit and that the manifestos will draw from 2015 policies. Key issues such as health, housing, education, international aid and building a better society will be on the cards and this is where charities can ensure that parties put certain issues firmly on their agendas.
What can charities do?
Although your charity may not have been prepared for the announcement about the general election, it's important to remind yourself of the rules around campaigning and political activities during an election. The Charity Commission provides specific guidance that charities must adhere to from the time an announcement of a general election is made until the date of the election itself.
In an article for Civil Society, author Charlotte Ravenscroft highlights five things that charities can do:
- Continue campaigning on issues
- Reach out to the candidates and ask their views on issues
- Publish candidates' views on issues
- Host a debate between candidates or invite them to issue-focussed events
- Publish a manifesto or briefing materials on issues
What must charities avoid?
Ravenscroft also points out the four things that charities can't do:
- Advocate for any individual party or candidate
- Explicitly compare the charity's views to those of individual parties or candidates
- Donate funds to any individual party or candidate
- Allow the charity to be cited in a candidate's manifesto
Reactions from the sector
The Lobbying Act 2014 is a grey area. Many charity groups have called for the government to clarify the act so that charities aren't put off from campaigning in the run-up to the snap election.
In the meantime, NCVO offers tips on how charities should prepare for the election. Similarly, the Charity Finance Group (CFG) encourages charities to get their acts together quickly to shape the agenda, ensuring that they're best able to support their beneficiaries.
According to CFG CEO Caron Bradshaw, "Charities must make bold proposals to all political parties, and all sides need to recognise to get the most out of the sector and strengthen our communities, then they absolutely have to help charities. They can do this by removing the barriers that hamper them from doing their work as effectively as possible."
Not surprising, many disability charities were quick to release statements as well. Leonard Cheshire CEO Neil Heslop called for the next government to continue the commitment to halve the disability employment gap and take practical steps to make this ambition a reality.
Muscular Dystrophy UK Chief Executive Robert Meadowcroft reassured supporters and beneficiaries in a statement that the charity will be working closely with them to ensure crucial issues for people with muscle-wasting conditions are very much in the minds of candidates, from NHS provision and independent living to employment opportunities, support for research and faster access to emerging drug treatments.
Scope CEO Mark Atkinson released a statement saying that the organization will be working with disabled people from across the country to make sure their voices are heard and that disability equality is a key issue in the election.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that the election provides all parties with the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to a thriving natural environment. They stated, "We need to fix a broken planning system that rewards speculative development instead of providing much needed affordable housing, a resilient farming sector delivering more public benefit, and further investment in sustainable transport instead of more roadbuilding."
No doubt additional statements will be forthcoming from other charities. If you're considering issuing a statement of your own — and as you plan your activity in the coming weeks — be sure to stay on the side of the law when it comes to lobbying.