'It is almost as if we are all too consumed with Brexit to consider anything else'

02 Dec 2019 In-depth

None of the major parties have much to say about charities as we approach this energy-sappingly awful general election, says Ian Allsop.

Basically, we are all Brenda from Bristol. I mean, sure, we knew that there would have to be an election at some point, to break the deadlock Boris Johnson faces in Parliament over Brexit. But it has been energy-sappingly awful so far. As I write there are still over three weeks of electioneering to go, and I am expecting acres more political discourse that is not so much injected with dynamic vision and genuine hope, but laced with lethargic lies and unicorn aspiration. Putting the pain into campaigning.

The initial draft of this column just read: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” for most of the page, with “JUST MAKE IT ALL END” as its concluding line.

Aside from the tedious rhetoric, the biggest issue is the timing of the poll. I am not concerned that it falls while I am halfway through my advent calendar (I am hoping for a pork scratchings one this year) but it means that the day after, when I am always a mental, emotional and physical wreck, whatever way the result has gone, coincides with the Civil Society Media Xmas party. Having that on Friday 13th was already a bad enough omen, if you are superstitious, which I am not.

Manifestos

At the time of writing, although oodles of promises have been flung at the weary electorate, no one has bothered to write a manifesto. But is there any point? They are a strange beast, manifestos. Some Conservative MPs have been almost evangelical about the fact that we need to “get Brexit done”, because they promised it in their last manifesto. They seem rather less zealous about lots of other things that were in there, which remain unfulfilled.

For example (and ignoring the fact that the English language needs a proper synonym for the word manifesto as I have already used it three times) ahead of the June 2017 election, I noted in this very space that it was all about Theresa May being “strong and stable”. Which has worked out about as well as a nervous jelly in an earthquake. The only mention of charities in the electoral declaration of future policies (is that better than manifesto?) were as follows: “We will make sure that our public services, businesses, charities and individual users are protected from cyber risks; establish schemes to help individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to provide housing and other support for refugees; and develop a digital charter, working with industry and charities.”

Tick, tick, tick. Or maybe not. Although, to be fair, May, and her successor, have been extremely busy not doing plenty of other things as well.

Some cursory internet research reveals that none of the major parties has said a great deal about the sector in the last couple of months. It is almost as if we are all too consumed with Brexit to consider anything else. Other than soundbite nods to crime, education and the NHS. And free broadband.

A number of sector umbrella bodies have joined forces and released a manifesto focused on strategic funding for charities. The partners behind the demands are ACEVO, CFG, Children England, Institute of Fundraising, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, the Local Trust, NAVCA, NCVO, the Small Charities Coalition, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. The manifesto’s four key demands from the next government were to increase funding for local authorities; establish a resilient communities fund; confirm what arrangements will be made to replace EU funds, should Brexit take place (interesting caveat there); and use dormant assets to create a community wealth fund. The manifesto states: “Charities will be on the frontline offering support to communities, and more broadly bringing communities together, helping to bridge the Brexit divide.”

A Brexit Party MEP has also claimed recently that Brexit offers a huge opportunity for charitable organisations who should view leaving the EU as a chance to drive positive change. Well of course he did. Matthew Patten, former chief executive of the social mobility charity the Mayor’s Fund for London, thinks charities will be instrumental in the post- Brexit era. Which is actually very true. Even if I don’t agree with the reasons that have meant it is a possibility.

While I have been writing this, I have received an email from my children’s school. Each of the five houses has selected a charity to support during the academic year. An explanation has been given explaining why the students selected the organisations they did. Amidst election fatigue and cynicism, it is extremely encouraging to see that the passion for and awareness of the invaluable work charities do is still there with the “snowflake Instagram” generation. Or whatever the current lazy label is. It will be much needed as they move through adulthood, as I fear the mess spilled by the current crop will need civil society’s mop for quite some time.

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