Political sphere is no place for charity says new Minister

Brooks Newmark has told a group of delegates that charities should be depoliticised – reaffirming the Conservative stance that charity campaigns should be non-partisan and fuelling the debate surrounding the government's Lobbying Act.

The new Minister for Civil Society said that, “what 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”.  

He spoke in response to a question from Rosemary Bennett of The Times following his first public speech as Minister for Civil Society. Newmark said: “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realm of politics. 

“I think when they stray into the realm of politics, that’s not really what they’re about, that’s not why people give them money.” 

According to The Independent his comments have been variously described as "incredibly insulting", "sexist" and "dismissive" and have been criticised by Lisa Nandy, Newmark's Labour shadow. 

Earlier this summer Andrew Hind, former chief executive of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, said: “To say there should be no campaigning, and there should be no non-partisan political activity, in my view is completely to miss the point of what civil society is there to do.

“Civil society organisations are not there just to run soup kitchens and fund guidebooks.” 

At the Nesta and Cabinet Office Social Action conference Brooks Newmark – a father of five who grew up in both the UK and the US – also spoke more generally about his ministerial appointment in July. "I’m an optimist," he said.

"It may be unfashionable but I still believe politics can be a force for good in the world. Ask me to choose between The Thick of It and the West Wing, I’ll choose the West Wing any day. For me, politics is all about helping others so I was delighted when the Prime Minister appointed me to this role."

With election manifestos due to be released in only a matter of weeks, it seems the embattled Big Society will still be a key component in the Conservative narrative. "Whether it is a social entrepreneur with a brilliant idea to make the world a better place, large scale programmes mobilising communities to take action on issues they care about, or individuals simply helping others through everyday acts – this is what I mean by the Big Society."

A new report by Nesta has found that the public in England give time valued at £34bn a year in support of public services. The report calls for the creation of more opportunities for people to help.

Newmark said that this government "is serious about opening up public services for civil society, charities and the voluntary sector to play a bigger role".

He also championed the creation of Big Society Capital and the first social impact bonds but warned that there will be challenges. "The economy is moving again. We are in a much better place than we were four years ago but I suspect austerity finances will be a fact of life for some time to come," he said.


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