So, here we are again.
Among the many questions raised by last year's EU Referendum, is whether charities and voluntary organisations and social enterprises were too quiet in the debate. I'd say this was definitely the case.
There was a lot of confusion - not least from the Charity Commission - about whether campaigning on the Referendum constituted "political activity" and although it was eventually made quite clear that it didn't, I think that by then it was too late and the uncertainty had made charity leaders wary of getting involved. Of course a General Election is a familiar process but the recent judgements against Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for apparently breaching the Lobbying Act will likewise have caused further confusion. (One particularly bizarre consequence this time around is that since the timing of the Election is so fast, the costs of campaigning activities undertaken *before the Election was even known about* may need to be taken into account when reporting on costs spent on campaigning.) Guidance from NCVO on the Lobbying Act can be found here https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2017/04/27/the-general-election-and-campaigning-what-you-need-to-know/ It's fair to say that for most organisations it's probably not applicable. I think we need to be bold and just get on with it.
Our organisations have a duty to contribute to public debate. I think it's essential that when an Election comes around, we help enrich the process - not of course in terms of supporting particular parties but in encouraging people to vote *and* in challenging the public debate by saying what we're seeing happen in the course of our work. All of our organisations are working on causes that make a difference to people's lives: we know stuff which nobody else does. We should share what we know.
So here are some things I think all of us should try to do over the coming weeks:
- Encourage people to take part. Share information about the ways people can register to vote, the registration deadline (22nd May). It's also important to share information about the process particularly for young or first-time voters who may feel put off if they don't know what to do or how it works. Do they know about the role of MPs, constituencies and the "first past the post" system? Help them find out. Share information with everyone your organisation is in touch with (beneficiaries, supporters, staff, volunteers and anyone else) about why it's important to vote. Having views, taking part in marches and filling in petitions are all great but if you don't vote you give up one of the most important means you have of expressing a view.
- Celebrate democracy: I think all our community organisations could help make this election something everyone feels part of. In Australia, where voting is compulsory, community organisations often organise barbecues near to polling stations and invite people to come and join in after they've voted (check "democracy sausage" https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Sausage) Maybe we could do our own version of that in Manchester? What sort of thing could we do? It would be great to share ideas.
- Speak out: I have always believed it's not just the right but the duty of charities and organisations trying to make a difference to say what they're seeing and doing - and what needs to change. If you're not talking about it, your impact is limited to those people you're already working with. So what would you say? It's not about the party political issues, it's about what you want to help make happen. I would love to see local organisations all making bold and positive statements about ideas for change. It's not only about influencing politicians, it's about influencing what the public says to politicians and what is seen to be important. Between us we have enormous reach - our organisations *are* the community getting active. So, again, what do you want to say?
We'll publish some things Macc and other organisations in the local and national voluntary, community and social enterprise sector are saying. If you're speaking out or publishing any statements in the run up to the election, let us know and we'll help circulate them.
NCVO have produced a Manifesto for the General Election focusing on the role of volunteering and voluntary organisations in the UK. https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2017/05/04/ncvos-general-election-message-charities-and-volunteering-make-britain-great/
Below are some resources you can use in your organisation to help do all this.
- Encourage people to take part
How to register to vote: Complete the online form here: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. It takes about 5 minutes and you're asked for your National Insurance number. The deadline is 22nd May 2017 for the June General Election.
Why it's important to vote and how it works: Here's a playlist of a few YouTube videos of how the voting system works, what your vote actually does - and a short TEDtalk about ways in which the system could be changed in future: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSy67tzRgMjGaL0IpIbPBNCxm5vSe7GZ2
Some good clear guides from the Electoral Commission https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk
Making a decision: There are various websites which use a quiz format to help you work out which party your views are closest to. There are lots of others out there but these seem to be the ones who have (so far) updated for the 2017 General Election:
• http://www.votingcounts.org.uk/policy-matrix.html (currently being updated)
There's also Full Fact - an independent fact checking organisation who try to provide an objective view on the claims made by politicians during interviews and debates https://fullfact.org
- Celebrate Democracy
If you're planning any events to encourage people to get involved, like hustings or discussion groups let us know and we'll help circulate them. (Please note we won't be promoting events organised by political parties, only by community organisations.) Also, if you're thinking of organising something on Polling Day, let us know - we want to share good ideas and encourage lots of groups to get involved.
- Speak out
Guidance for charities and voluntary orgaisations and social enterprises on campaigning in the election:
NCVO briefing: https://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2017/04/18/a-snap-general-election-what-should...