Conference dispatch – Conservative Party Conference in Manchester 2011
The dust has finally settled on the 2011 conference season. It’s been all the things I thought it would be - expensive, hectic and occasionally frustrating. But the bottom line is that it’s been useful – particularly the last days we spent in Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference.
There were a few things that surprised me this year at the Tory Conference (aside from the infamous Catgate – who could have seen that coming!?).
Firstly, the buoyant mood of the party despite the dire economic outlook (one unnamed sector leader went so far as to suggest that the Tories were ‘revelling in austerity’).
Secondly, the ferocity of the attacks on Labour this far away from an election – with even the mild mannered Greg Clark delivering a brutal attack on the official opposition as the ‘enemies of aspiration’.
Thirdly, the slight noisier than usual rumblings about charities and their campaigning role. Perhaps the tone was set by Francis Maude at the start of the conference, when he called the National Trust’s view of government planning reforms ‘bollocks’.
Now don’t get me wrong, NCVO has been aware for some time that some people have a less than favourable view of charities that campaign, particularly those that also take money from the state. This is why, alongside our colleagues at Acevo, we chose to theme our fringe events at each of the conferences around the issue of independence and campaigning. Still, it was interesting to hear Charlie Elphicke MP make the distinction between outsourcing charities (those that deliver state services) and those that do not. He also said that when he heard charities campaigning against the cuts he viewed this simply as ‘business protection campaigning’.
While Dame Clare Tickell of Action for Children did a sterling job of setting the record straight (emphasising that the reason the sector is concerned about cuts is because of the impact on beneficiaries and not because of a self-interested motive), this is incredibly worrying. It got me thinking about who else in Westminster might be taking this view and what we, as a sector, need to do to ensure that the messages we send out about the cuts hit home. In no way should this prevent the sector from speaking out but we do need to think carefully about the arguments we present. For me, Polly Toynbee hit the nail on the head when she said that the charity sector should have the evidence to say what’s true and the trust to be believed. Food for thought as we receive news that the financial climate is worsening and as local councils turn their attention to next year’s budgets.
You can view my photos from the Conservative Party Conference here.
Like this? Read more
Chloe Stables, Parliamentary and media manager, reflects on the latest political developments affecting the voluntary and community sector.