What is it with the Tories and charities? Despite all the pre-election rhetoric about the Big Society, there appears to be a deep-seated hostility within the Tory Party – and their Liberal Democrat partners – to the idea that charities should act as advocates for those they represent, rather than simply acting as channels through which money can be distributed to good causes.
With legislation going through Parliament which would effectively prevent charities from campaigning in an election year it is interesting to see Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove and Portslade, opening up another front in the war on charities. On 9 October he asked the following Parliamentary Question:
Mike Weatherley: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will make it his policy to ensure that his Department does not give grants to charities whose principal officers or employees engage in criminal activity at protests. 
Jo Swinson: In line with previous Administrations, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills does not provide grants for organisations that are involved in criminal activity. Organisations that exist for political purposes would not meet the criteria for charitable status and we would be unable to award them grants under the Charities Act 2006. If you are aware that any Government funding has been misused, or any other assistance given, for the purposes of inappropriate political campaigning, we would welcome your drawing it to our attention.
It’s a curious, and poorly-drafted, question – but the objective seems clear: to punish collectively charities whose staff have been involved in “criminal activity” at protests.
It’s worth unpacking what this means. What is meant by “criminal activity”? Does Weatherley mean people who are arrested? Or convicted? Or have their details recorded on a police database? And how would this be policed? Would there need to be reporting mechanisms in charities? Most of all, is the question of charity staff being arrested at protests a real issue at all, or just something that lurks in Weatherley’s imagination?
And it’s interesting that Weatherley’s focus should be on criminal activity at protests. It shows, I think, the mindset behind the question quite clearly; this, like the gagging bill, is about charities knowing their place.
Weatherley may not know that Eglantyne Jebb, the social reformer who founded Save The Children, was arrested in Trafalgar Square for protesting against child poverty in the defeated countries in Europe after the First World War, the humanitarian criss that prompted the founding of the charity. Is he arguing that this remarkable woman had no place running a charity? Or is he perhaps riled by Save the Children’s forensic and sobering analysis of the effects of child poverty in modern Britain – exacerbated by the austerity measures for which he has loyally voted?
When, in 2015, the voters of Hove and Portslade dispense with Weatherley’s services as their MP, his footnote in history will be the criminalisation of squatters in domestic premises – a vindictive piece of legislation that does absolutely nothing to alleviate the appalling housing crises faced by young people in particular in modern Britain. This attack on charities is all of a piece with that – unevidenced and nasty, and a diversion from the issues of austerity and soaring living costs that really hurt his constituents.