Are ex-Labour SPADS campaigning against the government via charities?
Save the Children have caused quite a stir this week after deciding to award former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, with a “Global Legacy” award. An online campaign has been started, demanding that they revoke the award, stating that it is inappropriate because of the role he played in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
It was also raised that the Chief Executive of Save the Children,Justin Forsyth, used to be a special adviser [SPAD] to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Although it appears to be unlikely that he had any say in the decision to give his former boss the award, his charity has been criticised in the past for its support of Oxfam in their highly politicised campaign against the government.
Part of the rules that govern which charities are given charitable status, (which include generous tax relief and the ability to claim extra money from the treasury via Gift Aid), is that they remain politically neutral and do not get involved with political campaigning.
This raises an interesting question: Can somebody who was so involved with the previous government really put aside their own personal politics and become politically neutral for the sake of their job? Just how many former labour SPADS are now involved with charities or think tanks ?
We’ll start with the two charities mentioned so far: Oxfam and Save the Children
Oxfam were reported to the Charity Commission earlier this year because of their highly politicised poster, blaming Tory policy for poverty. Regardless of whether people agree with what they claim, or not, it is still against their obligations under their charitable status.
It may be worth considering that Jo Cox, the former head of policy at Oxfam, was an adviser to Sarah Brown and used to work for Baroness Kinnock, whose husband Neil was the leader of the Labour party between 1983 and 1992.
It is also worth noting that David Pitt-Watson, Oxfam’s honorary treasurer, was also a SPAD for over 20 years and was the party’s finance director from 1997 to 1999.
Save the children, as we’ve already said, is run by Justin Forsyth, who was a special adviser to both Blair and Brown. After he took the job, they started to campaign on child poverty in the UK and released a report which was criticised for being misleading and too party political.
Brian Binley, the Conservative MP for Northampton South said “I am not saying that they are being politically motivated there is a danger that it could be seen as that, they must question their own motivation closely because they could do an awful lot of damage.”
They were trying to raise £500,000 to help fund work with the poorest children in the country, despite having an annual turnover of £559,141,304.
Gavin Kelly, who was deputy chief of staff at 10 Downing Street, now runs an organisation called the Resolution Foundation. They claim to be a non-partisan think-tank that work on improving the living standards of those on low incomes. This, however, is undermined by Mr Kelly, their chief executive, who regularly writes a blog criticising government policy.
Gordon’s former head of policy,Nick Pearce and Lisa Perrin now work at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Nick, as its director and Lisa as their events manager. Nick regularly writes blog posts that are highly critical of government policy. The IPPR employ 34 people who have links to the heart of the old Labour government. The Charity Commission say that charities should have no purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, so why has Ed Miliband constantly priased the think tank’s work and said that their work could become Labour Policy?
In an interview with the Telegraph, justice secretary Chris Grayling said that “It’s now the career route of choice: they can use that platform [Charities and Think tanks] to attack this Government and make their name, lining up alongside former special advisers, MPs and councillors to argue for more spending, or to spread scare stories that are often exaggerated or wholly untrue.”
Out of the 25 SPADS that Gordon Brown had, 12 of them are now working for charities or think tanks.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, some ex-SPADS such as Dan Corry and Joe Irvin have gone on to make positive contributions to the sector via organisations such as the NPC, who publish material for other charities on issues such as public perception and scalability or Living Streets, which run safety campaigns for pedestrians.Follow @jordanjryan