Charity v Conservative Party: is it war?

Poverty protest crop

Susan Smith responds to another attack on the third sector's right to criticise government

Susan Smith's photo

31st January 2018 by Susan Smith 1 Comment

Oxfam had the audacity recently to illustrate the growing gulf between the world's few super rich indivduals and the many, many more poor people.

The ensuing Twitter storm inspired former charities minister Rob Wilson to denouce the whole sector's right to campaign in an opinion piece in the Telegraph. 

Was this an over-reaction or an opportunity?

There are so many ways to rebuke Wilson's comments, it’s hard to know where to start. What is deeply worrying though is that a politician with experience of working closely with the third sector has argued its sole purpose is to deliver cheap public services.

It is fairly easy to dismiss his attack on the sector as Tory protectionism. However, let’s not forget that this is part of a double-pronged propaganda war against both political dissent and the independence of the third sector. 

Criticism of government is not a necessary evil, it is an essential element of a free and democratic society

Over the last few years, I have written ten blogs on the issue of third sector independence. So, to be clear: it is vitally important to democracy that charities have the right to speak up and out about social injustices. 

Wilson’s most cutting criticism of Oxfam, that it could be a “front-group for extreme left-wing Corbynistas”, is a blatant party-political jibe. More worrying is his leap to accuse the whole sector of employing “people with left wing perspectives on life” who indulge in “unfair criticisms of the government.”

Criticism of government is not a necessary evil, it is an essential element of a free and democratic society. Whether individual charities appear to have left wing or right-wing arguments is irrelevant. As long as they are not party political, they have a responsibility to raise awareness of the issues they come across while pursuing their charitable objectives.

Wrapped up in his paranoiac fear of the "left", Wilson’s belief that instead of campaigning, charities and social enterprises should pick up public sector slack at “the lower cost the country needs” is dangerously chauvinistic. It is reminiscent of another former Tory charities minister who said the sector should “stick to its knitting.”

We need to remember that these kinds of comments are not innocuous, they are a deliberate and sustained attack on the third sector’s freedom of expression, and one that must be vociferously resisted.

Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News.

2nd February 2018 by Ruchir Shah

Absolutely! Well said Susan