RSPB apologises for calling government ministers ‘liars’ after trustee complaint

31 Aug 2023 News

Infographic from RSPB's X post criticising government environment policy

RSPB has apologised for calling prime minister Rishi Sunak and two other government ministers “liars” over their environment pledges. 

In a series of social media posts directed at Sunak, levelling up secretary Michael Gove and environment secretary Therese Coffey, RSPB criticised the government’s decision to scrap water pollution restrictions in favour of building more housing developments. 

RSPB’s original post on X said: “You said you wouldn’t weaken environmental protections. And yet that’s just what you are doing. You lie, and you lie, and you lie again. And we’ve had enough.”

But after being criticised by some social media users, including trustee Ben Caldecott, the conservation charity apologised.

In its apology, RSPB said frustration at the government’s policies led the charity to “attack the people not the policy”. 

“This falls below the standard we set ourselves and for that we apologise. We will continue to campaign vigorously on behalf of nature but we will always do so in a polite and considered manner,” it said.

When asked by Civil Society, RSPB would not confirm whether it decided to apologise due to Caldecott’s criticism.

The charity has also not deleted its original series of posts, at time of writing.

Regulator assessing possible intervention 

RSPB trustee Caldecott publicly criticised the charity’s post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. 

He said: “These tweets are simply not an appropriate contribution to our public discourse from such an important and highly respected organisation. We can strongly disagree and make our case without calling people ‘LIARS!’. As a trustee I have raised this issue urgently with the CEO and chair, among others.”

Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson also criticised the charity and suggested the Charity Commission strip it of its charitable status. 

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: “We are aware of social media activity by the RSPB and will assess this matter to determine if there is a regulatory role for the Commission.”

Sector organisations back apology

Charity sector organisations appeared to support RSPB’s decision to apologise.

Sarah Vibert, chief executive of NCVO, said: “It’s vital that charities are able to effectively speak out against government policies that they believe will be detrimental to our communities and to the people and causes we serve. Charity campaigning is an important part of a healthy democratic society.

“But – as RSPB have rightly pointed out in their most recent statement – this is most effective when we focus on the issue at hand rather than personalities of the day. That way we can ensure our party political impartiality is maintained, as is the trust and confidence of those who support us.” 

Meanwhile, consultancy CharityComms responded positively to RSPB’s apology on X, but has since deleted its reaction post.

A spokesperson told Civil Society it was a “nuanced event”.

“Comms teams are making difficult decisions every day to champion their cause and forward their purpose. Social media, by its very nature, is reactive,” they said.

“When coupled with a rapidly moving agenda, it can be a challenging ask of comms teams to craft responses. Teams must be supported by the organisation in this work through a clear and shared approach to messages and tone of voice.” 

Government response

A government spokesperson told Civil Society: “We’ve always been clear we will never compromise our high standards and we are fully committed to our ambitious and legally binding commitments on the environment.   
“The reforms we’ve set out will see us tackle pollution at source in a way that these legacy laws never addressed through a significant package to restore waterways and leave our environment in a better state than we found it.
“This will see us more than offset the negligible impact of new homes on levels of nutrients, by doubling the investment for Natural England to tackle nutrients, bringing this to £280 million, drawing up bespoke plans to restore nature in the most affected areas, and providing more support than ever to help farmers reduce pollution from essential agriculture.”

Governance & Leadership is partnering with Sheila McKechnie Foundation in a survey of trustees’ attitudes on charity CEOs speaking out, and on broader attitudes to charity campaigning. Click here to complete the survey.


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