New charities' minister accused of patronising civil society following astonishing remarks
A millionaire Tory minister has launched an astonishing attack on civil society – telling charities to stay out of politics and “stick to their knitting.”
The Westminster government’s new charities' minister Brooks Newmark made the remark in his first major speech.
He said: "We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics. Some 99.9% 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.
"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."
Charities reacted furiously to Newmark’s ‘patronising’ comments, which have been seen as fitting in with the Westminster government’s wider agenda of silencing charities which campaign against austerity and poverty.
Mr Newmark appears to be like the Countess in Downton Abbey, thinking we should all appear with a basket of homemade buns and knitted socks rather than fighting our cause
John Downie, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' (SCVO), director of public affairs, said: “This is just the latest in a series of gaffes from the UK government in its underlying agenda to silence the third sector as they try to keep charities out of politics, but we won’t let them gag us.
“Charities don’t get involved in ‘party politics’ but we can get and are involved in ‘politics’. The third sector campaigns on a wide range of issues to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in society. Everything is about ‘politics’.
“All Brooks’ comments are going to do is make the third sector, including SCVO, want to ‘stick’ it to the UK government even more over the lobbying bill.
“At SCVO we will be campaigning to fight and protect the liberties of Scotland’s third sector.”
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips said: “We work to improve the lives of millions. When we find something that policy-makers need to address, it is our duty to tell them and tell the public.”
Frances Crook of prison reform charity the Howard League said: “Mr Newmark appears to be like the Countess in Downton Abbey, thinking we should all appear with a basket of homemade buns and knitted socks rather than fighting our cause.”
Third sector groups’ frontline role means that it is essential they have a voice in both shaping and criticising policy.
However, there has been disquiet recently over moves by the Westminster government to stifle criticism coming from organisations such as Oxfam and foodbank organisers The Trussell Trust, while justice secretary Chris Grayling has questioned the 'neutrality' of campaigning charities.
The Westminster lobbying bill (now an act) has been seen as a means of suppressing dissent – and senior government figures have brought pressure to bear on organisations that they say are acting too politically.
In Scotland, MSPs have been challenged by SCVO to protect the right of the third sector to campaign against and criticise government policy.