According to his Wikipedia entry, Brooks Newmark MP is involved in several charities including a Hospice and respite centre for children with severe disabilities. His recent appointment as the Under Secretary for Civil Society puts him as the Cabinet Minister responsible for Government Policy on charities. In his first speech since taking up that appointment Mr Newmark explained “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics,” He went on “99.9 per cent do exactly that. When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money.” Newmark had been asked about his response to his party’s concerns over charities campaigning, he said: “The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others.” however he also went on to say that he thought social action was “at the heart of what it meant to be a father, an active citizen and a politician”.
It seems that in the mind of Mr Newmark, it is entirely consistent with the role of fathers, active citizens and politicians to participate in social action, yet for those of us including Mr Newmark whose social action inspires us to get involved in the work of charities, that we must distinguish between the work we do for our charities, and when we are being political. That is of course unless we are, like Mr Newmark already part of the 0.8% of people who are involved in Party Politics in the UK. Those 350,000 or so people are perfectly at liberty to indulge in their hobby or even their full time work as Politicians and also to participate in the work of charities. Indeed as Mr Newmark has made clear he thinks that social action (a great deal of which is likely to be charitable) is at the heart of what Party Politicians will want to do.
The real challenge at the heart of this story is that the total numbers of people currently active members of charities is unknown but certainly counted in the Millions, possibly even 10’s of Millions (it is reasonable to assume that some of the members of one charity are also members of another). Yet those involved in Party Politics barely account for one third of a Million. Mr Newmark and his small group of friends recently passed even more legislation to separate the 0.01% of the 163,000 charities in England and Wales from their own work and that of Political Parties. That is a very expensive piece of legislation to reinforce existing laws for the failings (as 330 MPs see it) of 1600 charities. It should be remembered that these 330 MPs are the very people who have a vested interest in who participates in Party Politics! On 19th September the law takes effect and charities are expected to either cease any activity that could be perceived to have a political dimension, or register as being politically active, until after the next election. This is in a nation which struggles to encourage people to participate in elections. I don’t know much about knitting, but I do know that those who waited for the spectacle of the Guillotine are reputed to have used the time to do a bit of knitting. Perhaps Mr Newmark is sending out a coded message to his colleagues which says more about his own insecurity than genuine concern about the work of charities?
As a final postscript, surely as a Conservative Minister speaking about what Charities should and should not do viz a viz knitting or indeed getting involved in politics, Minister Newmark is forcing us to respond in a manner that many of his more stupid colleagues will treat as being Party Political. Is he in fact goading the sector to fall foul of the legislation?