In the last 8 months two charities have been judged by the Charity Commission as having broken laws regarding political campaigning including those set out by the Conservative led coalition Government to prevent charities getting involved in politics. When the Tories introduced “The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014” into Parliament in July 2013 and began to focus on charities in part two of the Act I raised a number of concerns about this approach in my blog. Because the Charity Commission is much more clearly a part of the Government (a step change introduced by the coalition) and its Chair’s appointed since 2010 have both been Tory party members or supporters (William Shawcross in October 2012 and Tina Stowell from February 2018) it was highly likely that at some point there would be a point of conflict between the Government led Commission with its politically appointed Chairs and charities whose views were at odds with the Government. However these two cases seem to be adding to the internal conflict within the Tory Party.
The first case was raised on 1st June 2018 against a so called “Independent educational charity” called the Legatum Institute which I wrote about here at the time. In that case the Chief Executive is Baroness Phillipa Stroud, a Conservative Peer who twice attempted to get elected as a Tory MP and the charity was established by an investment company which is very supportive of Tory policies. According to the Charity Commission, a report focusing on Brexit produced by Legatum “may be seen as promoting a political view directed towards securing a particular negotiating position for the aim of a particular final outcome…..the report is not consistent with the requirements associated with the advancement of education for the public benefit. Whilst we considered that the trustees do recognise the need for balance and neutrality, they crossed a clear line with this publication.”
Then a few days ago on 5th February another case was published by the Charity Commission which has resulted in a much more serious formal legal warning against a much more challenging political body that also claims to be an educational charity called the Institute of Economic Affairs whose Director General once wrote on twitter in response to a message I sent him “oh God. Another smug, whiney, ill informed, statist, “know it all”, pompous, up themselves, utterly pathetic, left wing lunatic. Spare me.” So that is clearly a man who is committed to education! The IEA was recently publicly challenged by the Guardian when some of the senior team offered to take their potential funders to meet Government Ministers as a reward for making donations. Also in 2015 Sajid Javid made a speech at their 60th Anniversary which is listed on the Government website with a heading “The Business Secretary pays tribute to leading British think-tank the IEA, and discusses the importance of defending the free market” and as part of his speech he stated “If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, then we will always need the likes of the IEA to be the watchmen for capitalism.” So clearly the IEA are very well linked to the Conservative Party. Yet despite this the legal warning from the Government controlled Charity Commission directed at the IEA states:
“The breaches relate to a report (‘PLAN A+ Creating a prosperous post-Brexit U.K) published by the charity in September 2018, and an associated launch event….The warning sets out the ways in which the report and its launch contravened the legal and regulatory requirements that apply to charities with educational purposes such as IEA and amounted to misconduct and mismanagement on the part of the trustees. Specifically, the Commission finds that the report and its launch sought explicitly to change government policy on an issue unrelated to the charity’s purposes – furthering education –which constitutes a breach of the Commission’s guidance on political activity and campaigning. The warning also criticises the charity’s launch event for including as speakers only individuals who held a particular set of views, thus risking the public perception that the IEA is politically biased and has a political viewpoint on a key government policy.”
So the question is will these two actions against such Tory influenced charities lead to the Government reconsidering its laws, or will party members expect any attacks on other charities that are a lot less supportive of the Tory party to be even stronger?