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Charity Commission chair warns charities not to engage in ‘culture wars’ 

30 Nov 2020 News

Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission

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.

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: 

 

Similarly, Nick Moberly the chief executive at MS Society said: 

Ndidi Okezie, chief executive at UK Youth, said that for progress to be made societal conditions must be challenged:

Others such as Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, chief executive at Leukaemia Care UK wrote that it is “wrong to ask charities to stay silent”:

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.”

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