I have been a paid-up member of the Labour Party for more than 30 years and for most of that time I’ve worked in the charity sector, mainly with Christian Aid in various roles including head of advocacy. But throughout that time, I’ve felt uncomfortable about making the following statement:
“If you’re concerned about global development, you must vote Labour”.
That’s because, leaving charity and electoral law to one side, I’ve met many Liberal Democrats and Conservatives who are just as committed as I am to ending global poverty. So it simply did not feel a right or honest thing to say.
Something has changed though. The plates have shifted. It feels different.
In a word: Ukip.
And as a consequence, liberal, tolerant, diverse Britain needs to wake up.
Since March of this year, I have been a full-time candidate for the European elections, knocking on doors, talking to voters, attending hustings, and debating the issues in the media. I have also been a candidate before, in both local and Westminster elections, so I know the ropes and know the warning signs.
Over the past few months of election campaigning, Ukip has driven a coach and horses through many of the consensus positions of British politics.
Three issues stand out which should really concern the third sector:
– Ukip’s stated intention of, at best, slashing the overseas aid budget or, at worst, ending it altogether;
– Ukip’s cavalier dismissal of the science of climate change, and;
– Ukip’s support for a flat tax, which would increase inequality – the main driver of poverty in the UK (although, since polling day, Nigel Farage has said this policy is to be reviewed).
As a consequence of these policies and others, I have no qualms, no hesitation, no intellectual doubt about standing up and saying loudly, publicly and clearly, “If you are concerned about poverty at home or abroad, if you are worried about global warming, then do not vote Ukip”.
Remember, I have met them at the hustings, I have seen the whites of their eyes, heard their unscripted replies to questions, and I must say Ukip are a breed apart. By their own boastful admission they are “the fox in the Westminster hen house”.
So I hope no one in the development sector thinks all they need to do is to take Nigel Farage on a trip to see a water project in Africa and he will change his party’s view on overseas aid. I hope no one campaigning for an end to poverty in the UK thinks Ukip’s review of its tax policy in the run up to the general election is going to see a volte-face in favour of a progressive tax system. I hope no one in the environment sector thinks Ukip will shortly acknowledge the weight of scientific evidence around climate change.
Which rather begs the question, “Why was the third sector so quiet while Ukip marched to a national election victory on 22 May 2014?”
Cowed by the lobbying act? Short of resources? Focusing on other priorities? Worried about being criticised by the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission? Not convinced European elections are really all that important? These are all reasons I’ve been given.
Of course there is a wonderful irony if it is the lobbying act that is holding the sector back. It was introduced by the current Conservative-led coalition government. And it is the Tories who would have most to gain if the third sector, along with the churches and the trade unions, were to set about systematically exposing the downside to so many Ukip policies.
On the doorstep, it was clear to me most voters – including most Ukip voters – had no idea about the party’s policies other than leaving the EU and stopping immigration (alas, their big vote winner). As it currently stands, the Conservatives are set to lose a swath of seats across the country as a result of their supporters peeling off to vote Ukip. Someone should tell Conservative Central Office the third sector could help them stem a further hemorrhaging of support and win back some of their lost voters.
As for the Liberal Democrats, they have only themselves to blame for their role in politically neutralising the voluntary sector, if that is what has happened. They were very keen on the lobbying bill because they saw it as the way to stop the National Union of Students from exacting revenge on Clegg and co. via a decapitation strategy in the 2015 general election, as payback for reneging on their student tuition fees promise.
This may all come as reasonably good news to my own party who, incidentally, are committed to repealing the lobbying bill. But morally I remain worried. Why? It’s been skirting around in the back of my mind but now it seems ever clearer to me and so it should be to liberal, tolerant, diverse Britain:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”
On the 22 May 2014, we were warned.
Paul Brannen is a Labour MEP-elect for the North East