After what has only been a matter of weeks (but may seem like a lot longer) we’ve finally made it to polling day. Today schools, churches, leisure centres and an array of other community buildings will be filled by people voting for the candidates of their choice. By this time tomorrow, the British people will have spoken. It will then be up to the politicians, civil servants and commentators to try and decipher what has been said.
This week, instead of wrapping up all of CAF’s activity from the campaign (which you can see here), we thought it would be more fun to bring you some of the key things we’ve learnt from the past few weeks instead. When we can expect a new government is still anyone’s guess, but in the meantime, here’s what the charity sector can take from the campaign:
1) The smaller parties have something to say – and charities need to listen. Before the election, it’s fair to say that not too many people knew what the Green Party and UKIP thought about the future of the charity sector. Six weeks later, we have a much better idea. Whether it’s been announcing policies at the Social Leaders Debate or outlining plans in manifestos, both the Greens and UKIP have made sure that their voices are being heard. If we are moving towards a period of multi-party government, charities need to have a better understanding of what small parties are proposing, with a nod to the increased likelihood that their plans have got of becoming law – this election has helped to kick-start that process. Similarly, with both the SNP and Plaid Cymru (to a lesser extent) being given a much bigger voice across the whole of then UK, the onus is on charity campaigners to make sure that their engagement reaches every corner of the country.
2) Charities want greater acknowledgement of their value. Whilst the smaller parties have been finding their voice, many charities don’t feel that they’ve been given the prominence that they deserve over the course of the election campaign – and they would appear to be correct. Shortly before the campaign we asked charity workers if they thought that parties were effectively communicating their policies for the future of the sector, and just 2% agreed. After the hundreds of pages and thousands of words included in manifestos, that figure had only risen to 5%. Even though individual manifestos were having more success in enlightening charity workers, the overall picture remains bleak and it is clear that many staff feel that their contribution to society is overlooked. By way of comparison, the last election saw the Big Society emerge as one of the dominant themes of the campaign. This year, save for the Conservative’s flagship policy on volunteering, charities have barely figured in the national picture. Given that, it perhaps isn’t surprising that so many charity leaders are pessimistic about future government support for the sector.
3) Whisper it quietly, but parties don’t disagree as much as they might have you believe. Despite divisions elsewhere, a lot of consensus has actually emerged on policy for the voluntary sector. To differing degrees (and in their own way), each of Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems commits to taking action on getting more young people involved with giving, and support for emerging business models rooted in the social economy. There is broad agreement that there is a role for not-for-profits in providing public services (although variations as to how far and where this should be concentrated), and the major parties also agree that the UK should retain the commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid spending. As parties begin to think about amalgamating their commitments, these are some areas of common ground that the sector can expect to make the cut in some form.
Of course, even though the campaign is now (almost) over, in many respects the fun and games are just beginning. As the dust begins to settle, political parties will be hastily putting aside the differences that have developed over the course of the campaign in pursuit of areas where they can find agreement, whilst making their ‘red lines’ – the policy areas that they will not budge on – even more prominent. We’ll be bringing our initial reaction to the result tomorrow morning, and then providing updates whenever a new government is formed and we begin to know more about the next five years have in store….(unless we end up doing it all again later this year.)