Behind all of the gloss and brouhaha in the Conservative Party conference the news that the party has appointed a Director of Outreach may well have been missed by Newsnight and the Radio4 Today programme. The person concerned, Colin Bloom is someone who I have known for several years and he has been reported in this article as indicating that he wishes to focus some of his new role on the relationship between the Party and charities. Based on my own observations he has a tough job on his hands unless he can persuade some of his colleagues to change their views. Colin told a round-table event at this weeks party’s conference that the party is ‘open for business’ to charities: ‘We are your friends and we want to be at peace with the sector’ Apparently he wants to organise events that bring together charities and Conservative politicians so the people concerned can form relationships that Colin thinks could further the mission of these charities. As very few charities have been formed to support the lives of Tory politicians and most are already overwhelmed by the needs their beneficiaries are facing, he may be being unduly optimistic.
“This party is open for business to charities – it’s in our DNA to work collaboratively with you,” he said. “We are your friends and want to be at peace with the sector.” Bloom said he often wondered why there appeared to be tension between the government and the charity sector, because some of the most charitable people he knew were Conservative Party members.
When someone like Colin has spent the last few years as a full time worker for the Conservative Party and is as dedicated to their values as he is, it is inevitable that he will know many of the people within the Party. It might have been more helpful for the sector if he had admitted that some of the least charitable people he knows are also Conservative Party members. There is no doubt that there are many Party members who are dedicated in their work within the charitable sector. However most people involved in charities, like most people within the country (some 99%) are not involved in any political party. In any case the charities at the event he spoke at were hardly the most disconnected from the party, they are not the hard to reach group in this scenario. If Colin really cannot understand the tension between the Government and charities it perhaps brings into question if he is beginning this task from the right point of view. According to the article it was Margot James MP who understood why the decision by the party officers to exclude a fringe meeting for muslim charities from the secure area of the conference was so damaging to the standing of the party.
In the last two years the actions of the Conservative dominated coalition have been very damaging to charities. It is vital that people like Colin get their head around this, and do so quickly. His language is spot on – the Party does need to make peace with a sector that has got used to a war of words and legislation from many MPs that has left it badly damaged and in some cases these combatants have hidden behind Parliamentary privilege as they lobbed out their missiles. Apparently Colin will hand pick the charities he wishes to invite into these cosy meetings, and it is far from clear how such meetings will be seen by outsiders as anything other than a form of lobbying, something that the Party legislated about in 2014 despite all of the pleas from the sector that Colin now wishes to woo. Indeed it was this legislation which more than any other action of the coalition created this sense of conflict.
Apparently Colin had some advice for charities which was to be clear about their vision and never dilute their values because they thought it might not fit with the ideas of a donor or a commissioner. “Don’t sell out,” he said. That presumably means he won’t be selecting charities that are focused on the needs of those who have suffered most from the last 5 years of austerity unless he really wants the Party to hear some very uncomfortable home truths!