Updated: Oct 31
A few weeks ago, I attended a roundtable discussion with a group of charity leaders looking at civil society and the role that charities play in the arena of politics. Charities have for decades been part of the campaigning-lobbying landscape. They have been part of a wave of pressure groups attempting to influence and change society for the better, whilst steering clear of party politics. At least, that’s the theory.
We at Voice4change England like many charities are concerned about the state of the country and the issues facing it such as: the cost-of-living crisis, housing, education, immigration, NHS, (in)equality, are just a handful of the political concerns brought to our attention through our members and wider networks. Put simply; a vibrant civil society is critical to a functioning democracy and an inclusive society.
As we celebrate Black History Month and with elections happening for the mayor’s office in London in May 2024 and a potential General Election in the autumn – if it doesn’t come sooner, politics with a capital P is set to dominate British Society in the weeks and months ahead. The undecided middle, women, youth, the older voters, the red wallers will be courted by the various political runners. A new government, of some kind is definite, by the end of the 2024!
As election activity slowly simmers towards boiling point, two issues of outstanding interest will need to be thought through in the run up. Firstly, do Black and minorities need to push for their own electoral voice in the form of a new Manifesto? Discussions are very much underway amongst race equality leaders hosted by NCVO. Secondly, how can we ensure better voter registration and turn out from the communities we work with, who unfortunately have some of the worst rates of voter turnout?
On the first issue of the manifesto, I’m not totally convinced. It’s been tried before (back in 2011) and failed to capture not only media interest, but the interest of the very BME communities it was aimed at. The aftermath of the #BLM protests and the upsurge of interest in race-related issues has been more effective in spawning an industry of new talking heads, than actual social change. One also wonders how different the issues are, facing all sections of society. Surely a better use of resources would be to concentrate on issues specific to BME communities and lobby around those specifics, rather than an entire manifesto separating us from the centre of political debate. However, I am open to be persuaded otherwise.
On the second issue of voter engagement, we have already been on the front foot in terms of raising awareness of voting and new ID requirements for a number of years we have brought, campaigners, data and people together to understand the reluctance to engage in the electoral process. We will continue to encourage people to vote.
However, feedback from people also informs us that this is not merely a technical issue. People need to know that our political system is open to being influenced by the views of voters and is focused on the issues they want to see changed and not just seen as campaign fodder for the main political parties.
I share the view of many organisations that when governments fail to act in the public interest and opposition parties are unwilling or unable to offer a credible alternative, it is up to civil society organisations to identify abuses and advocate for reforms. We therefore look to host some of the key debates as we did at the last General Election in 2019.
There is much to play for. As we head towards the new year, the campaigning at a low level has already started and will get more intense. Whatever the outcome next year, we hope our loose constituency will have been fully engaged and anchored.