Monday 7 March 2016

The Observer scrapes through the bottom of the barrel

Ever since the government announced the anti-sockpuppet clause on February 6th, tax-sponging activists and their friends have been on a fishing expedition to find something to attack it with. The government let it be known that my work for the IEA partly inspired the policy and I'm sure a slew of Freedom of Information requests have been made to find evidence of something incriminating, hypocritical or embarrassing.

Thirty days have now gone by and nothing has emerged because there isn't anything. And so the Observer has had to resort to this truly pitiful 'exposé'...

Outrage over charity chief’s ‘complicity’ in bid to limit voluntary sector lobbying

The chairman of the Charity Commission has been accused of actively helping a leading critic of charities who inspired a controversial new law curbing their activities.

... Emails shared with the Observer show that Shawcross asked a commission trustee, Professor Gwythian Prins, a climate change sceptic, to approach Snowdon to discuss the issue of charities lobbying the government.

In an email dated Tuesday, 7 May 2013, which carries the subject heading “Political campaigning”, Prins writes: “Dear Mr Snowdon, the chairman of the Charity Commission, upon whose board I shall shortly start to serve, has asked me to talk to you about matters of mutual interest. I shall be happy to do so … this issue is no flash in the pan.”

This is more of an attack on the Charity Commission than it is on me. There is no suggestion that the IEA has done anything untoward. Then again, there isn't really a suggestion that Shawcross or Prins have done anything untoward.

Anyone who looks at the few facts presented in the article will see that there is no story here. Three years ago, after publishing two reports that featured charities quite heavily and which both received significant media and political attention, I was e-mailed by Mr Prins with a view to discussing the issue. We did so by phone and some months later when I was in London we met up and discussed it in person. I haven't seen him since but he struck me as a sound fellow.

The story begins and ends there. Two people with similar professional interests had a chat. If you strip all the irrelevant filler about climate change scepticism, oil companies and tobacco out of the article, that's all there is left.

I have never thought that the Charity Commission could or should do much about state-funded campaigning. I think it's primarily an issue for the government agencies that dish out the funds. I said this at the time. The Observer article even quotes me saying it to Prins by e-mail!

Sure enough, the Charity Commission hasn't done anything about it. It was the Cabinet Office that acted, following the lead of DCLG. The anti-sockpuppet clause has nothing whatsoever to do with the Charity Commission and the clause is not specifically about charities. There is, therefore, no way that anyone at the Charity Commission could be 'active and complicit' in creating it.

I will happily talk to anybody about this or any other topic I write about. If I think a policy is wrong, I will gladly say so. That is exactly what think tanks are supposed to do. Hell, it's exactly what informed citizens are supposed to do. It just so happens that in this instance I was not lobbying for a policy change and I would have been speaking to the wrong person if I had.

How many times have ACEVO and NCVO met with people from the Charity Commission in the last three years, I wonder? I strongly suspect that the answer is more than once. Isn't this the kind of 'stakeholder engagement' that they say is so valuable?

When the anti-sockpuppet clause was announced, the big charity bosses wouldn't stop talking about how important lobbying and advocacy is in a democracy. It seems that only applies when you're taking money from the government and you're saying things of which the big charity bosses approve. Tim Worstall makes the point very well in his post about this nonsense...

And there’s a delicious irony in what those sock puppets are now complaining about. They are complaining that Chris and the IEA informed government and thus changed policy. The very thing that they insist they should be allowed to do but obviously not Chris and the IEA be allowed to do. That’s the sort of argument that really should be met with a staccato burst of ripe Anglo Saxonisms.

Too right. This looks like the last desperate scrape of the barrel from the Observer on this subject.

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