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The Road Ahead 2023: Adapting to political change

In this series, we examine the trends that will impact charities and volunteering in 2023. This article considers how we respond to continuing political turbulence.

Last year we saw a political storm quite like no other. It was a year that gave us four chancellors of the exchequer, three prime ministers and two Conservative party leadership elections.

We start 2023 with less uncertainty, but with key legislation going through parliament and numerous crises for political leaders to contend with. Here are some of the trends likely to impact charities.

Engaging with the current government

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer look set to lead the government and opposition respectively into the next general election – which must happen before January 2025.

With an election on the horizon, the current government will be looking to deliver. Rishi Sunak entered Number 10 pledging to deliver on the 2019 Conservative manifesto. But with significant events since 2019, and Rishi Sunak setting his priorities for the year ahead, charities will need to respond to the changing political scene.

A different Conservative party

Many former ministers are unlikely to be in front bench roles again, and a significant proportion of members of parliament (MPs) are unlikely to gain ministerial roles in this parliament.

This gives charities potentially high-profile advocates for our work from the backbenches. While the party has a working majority of 69 MPs, we can expect ministers to engage with backbenchers on contentious issues to avoid rebellions.

Parliamentary time will be limited

We’ve started to see planned legislation – like the schools bill and planned employment rights bill – withdrawn. As time ticks, we can expect limited time to scrutinise bills and pragmatic decisions on what will be tabled.

As a sector, we’ll need to act fast to engage with policy makers and politicians on the issues that matter to us.

EU laws to be scrapped

Following Brexit, European Union (EU) law was retained into domestic law to provide legal continuity and certainty. The retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill will cause most, but not all, of these EU laws to expire on 31 December 2023, unless a minister decides to retain them.

According to commentary from UK in a Changing Europe, around 3,800 laws will be affected. Now’s a good time to consider whether EU laws that affect your cause are at risk, and what changes might mean for you.

Bill of rights

Labelled the rights removal bill by opponents, the bill of rights will significantly change the Human Rights Act. Initially introduced in summer 2022, the government confirmed in December 2022 that it’s now ‘ready to go’.

We share the concerns that many human rights groups have about this bill. If you echo these concerns, you can write to your MP.

Political party plans for the general election

This year, we’ll see all political parties make substantive decisions on the scale and scope of their commitments for the next election.

The next six months are a crucial time for voluntary organisations to influence pledges made in the next manifestos. We’ll need to act this year to secure support for our causes in years to come.

New constituency boundaries

The Boundary Commission for England has completed its final consultation on new boundaries of constituencies. We expect a final decision to be announced this summer.

Independent analysis shows that while most seats will see minimal change, a minority will be radically reformed. If you’re a local charity, it’s important to consider the impact this might have on your relationships with political representatives.

New faces in parliament

Over the next year, MPs will retire, or announce plans not to stand in the next election. Consider which MPs you have the most contact with and how it might affect your organisation if they choose not to stand.

Engagement with opposition

With Labour entering 2023 with a sustained poll lead, the party continues its formal policy development process. This will create opportunities for sharing ideas and suggestions for development.

Labour plans to share a ‘slim’ and ‘focused’ manifesto, so now’s the time to build relationships with shadow ministers and their teams.

Staying lawful and managing conflict of interests

As charities, it’s our job to speak out for the causes we support. As we head towards an election, consider how to engage with political parties and contentious issues while staying politically independent and focused on your purpose.

New rules for campaigners in an election

The next general election will be the first under the Elections Act 2022, which sets new rules for non-party campaigners. The Electoral Commission is set to publish a new code of practice that will explain how to comply with the legal duties.

Protecting your charity if staff or trustees stand as MPs

Many MPs have a background in the voluntary sector. If one of your team becomes a party candidate, it’s crucial to balance the risks to your neutrality – especially where they’re in a prominent position or publicly represent your organisation – and their employment rights.

Read this example of a charity chief who took her employer to court for dismissing her for standing as an MP.

Possible changes to All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

Last year the House of Commons Committee on Standards published a report on the governance and regulation of APPGs and committed to consultation proposals for reform.

This year, we can expect to hear their recommendations.

Restrictions on rights to be heard

We’ve joined human rights groups in speaking out about new restrictions on rights to be heard. Consider the impact of the restrictions on your approach to creating change.

Restrictions on the right to protest

The public order bill is set to come into force this year. It includes new offences for serious disruption caused by protesters and introduces ‘serious disruption prevention orders’, commonly known as ‘protect banning orders’.

Individuals under an order can be subject to a set of conditions, including not associating with certain people, going to certain places, carrying certain items, or using the internet in certain ways. Breach of the order is a criminal offence.

Changes to judicial review

Many voluntary organisations use judicial review to challenge the legality of decisions made by public bodies in the UK.

The Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022 changes the way we conduct judicial reviews, extending the remedies that courts may choose to grant.

Courts have also raised questions on standing – who courts will allow to bring legal action – something those preparing legal action should actively consider.

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