Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, has said charities need to leave party politics alone and not engage in culture wars.
She wrote an article for The Mail On Sunday, which was headlined: “If you want to improve lives and strengthen communities through charity, you need to leave party politics and the culture wars out of it.”
As Stowell herself writes, “all [charities] can campaign in support of the causes they exist to fight for (or against) – as long as they don’t stray into party politics by doing so”.
She adds: “The law is clear on that – and the job of the Charity Commission is to ensure that charities stick to it.”
Nonetheless, she goes onto warn “whoever is tempted to use charities as another front on which to wage broader political struggles should be careful.”
Stowell’s article reads: “What we’ve seen in the past few years is the growth of new divisions which don’t neatly respect party lines.
“Issues like Brexit; the exercise and limits of free speech; the root causes of inequality; or how best to tell the story of British history. They are all defining politics at home and around the world.”
She says “now would be the worst possible moment” to jeopardise public goodwill “by getting drawn into the culture wars”.
Stowell's article condemned by charity leaders
Stowell, who is due to leave the Commission early next year, prompted a strong reaction from several leaders in the sector.
Indeed, many were quick to point out Stowell’s own career history before she was appointed to her current role.
Charity should be separate from party politics, says #charity regulator, who was appointed to that role* by the Tories, is a Tory peer, worked in Tory HQ, and was senior staffer for a Tory leader. 🤔— Caroline Fiennes (@carolinefiennes) November 30, 2020
Plus the article doesn't even make sense. Wee thread. https://t.co/AphbmlFg8r
In 2018 the secretary of state overruled a recommendation by the Digital Culture Media and Sport Select Committee not to appoint Baroness Stowell to the chair of the Charity Commission.
Many leaders argued that it was necessary for their charities to tackle areas of injustice and challenge policies.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of Become the charity for children in care and young care leavers, wrote:
So much to disagree with here. What is important for charities is fighting tirelessly for the people they are set up for- that means being angry about & tackling the root causes of injustice not just dealing with the symptoms https://t.co/WYkKOW5FYI— Katharine Sacks-Jones (@KatharineSJ) November 29, 2020
Similarly, Nick Moberly the chief executive at MS Society said:
This is an extraordinary statement. To fulfil their purpose, charities sometimes have an obligation to campaign loudly on sensitive issues; and that may well include challenging policies of the government of the day. Our beneficiaries want our help in making their voice heard https://t.co/qy5litre8i— Nick Moberly (@Nick_MSsoc) November 30, 2020
Ndidi Okezie, chief executive at UK Youth, said that for progress to be made societal conditions must be challenged:
Many charities literally exist because something about the “status quo” doesn’t work for all! I’m perplexed as to how they can change those societal conditions without! calling out those very inequalities. Progress doesn’t happen by making sure everyone feels comfortable all time https://t.co/74W70QxVkX— Ndidi Okezie🕊 (@Ndidi1st) November 29, 2020
Others such as Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, chief executive at Leukaemia Care UK wrote that it is “wrong to ask charities to stay silent”:
Disappointing stance @ChtyCommission. Charities have a crucial role to play in being a voice for their beneficiaries, seeking to influence decisions, highlighting inequalities and publicly holding government to account. It is wrong to ask charities to stay silent... https://t.co/Wo1otPhy0Q— Zack Pemberton-Whiteley (@ZPWLC) November 29, 2020
ACEVO: The chair of the Charity Commission needs to demonstrate political independence
In a blog, published this morning, ACEVO policy officer Maisie Hulbert said: “The next chair of the Charity Commission must demonstrate party-political impartiality.
“We would like to see an incumbent without ties to any political party, whether as a past politician themselves, or someone with clear personal ties to party-political figures.”