The League Against Cruel Sports has been reprimanded by the Charity Commission for issuing a press release that described the Conservatives as “more like a nasty party than a compassionate Conservative party”.
On the last working day before Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared the election for 6 May, the Charity Commission published its regulatory case report about the League’s press release, which it had put out on 1 June last year.
The release pertained to a public poll the charity had commissioned, relating to the Conservative Party’s policy on hunting with dogs.
One of the questions in the poll was as follows: “In 2002, a senior Conservative Party politician described the party as having been regarded as ‘the nasty party’. The current Conservative leader has sought to rebrand them as the ‘compassionate Conservatives’. Do you think the Conservatives’ pledge to hold a vote on whether to make the hunting with dogs of deer, hares and foxes legal is more in keeping with a ‘nasty party’ or a ‘Compassionate Conservative’ party?”
The League then put out a press release that began: “More than double the number of people think the Conservatives are more like a ‘nasty party’ than a ‘compassionate Conservative’ party, according to a poll published today.”
The Commission said the release “appeared to criticise the political party rather than seeking to influence public opinion on a particular issue”.
“The wording was party political in character and went beyond the sort of statement that a charity can properly make,” it said.
The charity accepted it had overstepped the mark and has assured the regulator it will not do so again. While it intends, in the run-up to the election, to publish candidates’ views on the particular issue of the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004, it has promised to stick to the Commission’s campaigning guidelines.
In its case report, the Commission included some advice for other charities considering campaigning in the next few weeks. “The need for impartiality is intensified prior to an election, and charities must take particular care when undertaking any activities in the political arena.”
Last year the Commission banned the League from running an advertisement featuring its campaign slogan ‘Keep Cruelty History’, that highlighted certain letters in order to spell out ‘Cruel Tory’.