Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Toryside Alliance

A link to an interesting letter found its way into my inbox this week. It's a letter from our local Tory candidate, in his guise as Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, providing a briefing to Tory candidates in marginal seats. It's a novel way for the Chief Executive of an "all-party" campaign to behave.

The "all-party" campaign has itself, it seems, been conducting "extensive and detailed polling" in some of those self-same marginal seats asking "whether the Conservative Party's position on repeal is likely to alter voting patterns". The boundaries between the CA and the Tory Party seem to be becoming a little blurred here, to say the least.

One of the other points made in the letter is a suggestion that the League Against Cruel Sports may have abused its position as a charity, since its activities might be perceived as being 'anti-Conservative'. The point of principle - i.e. that a charity may not get involved in party political activity - is correct. It's a serious allegation, but it is a matter for the Charity Commission and the law to determine whether LACS have actually breached the law.

I note however, from the CA site that all donations made to them, as well as the greater part of membership monies, qualify for Gift Aid as charitable donations. Most of the work of the CA is, it seems, regarded as coming under the remit of 'charity'. So clearly, if that organisation were to be caught out undertaking activities aimed at benefiting one party, wouldn't that fall to be dealt with under the same rules?


Adam Higgitt said...

Indulge me a little devil's advocacy, but could it be argued that an all-party group that has persuaded only one party to commit to implement its aims is entitled to focus its efforts in getting that party's candidates elected?

John Dixon said...


Always in indulgent mode here. But let me just paint two scenarios.

Scenario 1. A single issue organisation convinces one party and only one party to support its agenda, and then openly solicits money from members and supporters with the objective of assisting that party to win an election, with full recording and declaration of the time and money involved against the relevant candidates' election expenses, either as 'real' costs or else as 'notional' costs.

Scenario 2. An organisation claiming to support a broad agenda covering a series of issues to which all parties sign up to a greater or lesser degree solicits money from its members and supporters on the basis of that whole agenda, and claims tax relief from the government on most of the money received since the activities are regarded as charitable, and then covertly assists one party's candidates in order to achieve a result on one element only of its agenda, with no declaration of the time and effort in the relevant returns of expenses.

Doesn't the answer to your (or the devil's) question depend on which of those two scenarios is the best description?

Geoffrey Woollard said...

I think that you are right to point up the potential for conflict of interest and/or Mr Hart's hypocrisy. I say conflict of interest because lots of Conservatives, especially in rural areas, are put off by the Countryside Alliance and, if elected (God forbid), Mr Hart is going to find it difficult to know whom to represent - the hunters and hare coursers, the Conservatives, or his constituents. Of course, if elected (God forbid), his duty would be to his constituents, but would his 'Hart' be in it? And I say hypocrisy because it is pretty clear to me that both the League Against Cruel Sports and the Countryside Alliance reckon that they are in the good-doing category like the majority of charities. However, we all know that the Countryside Alliance which, despite its propaganda about 'affordable housing, local services and the rural economy,' in reality only has one track in what passes for its collective mind and that track leads solely to the un-banning of fox hunting and hare coursing.

We British led the way in banning the slave trade and in banning slavery in the Empire, we led the way in banning bear baiting and cock-fighting, and we led the way in banning hunting and hare coursing. We must continue to make progress and God forbid that our civilisation takes a backward step.

I am not of your party, Mr Dixon, nor have I reason to be, for I am English. I am an independent planning to stand as such on an anti-hunting and anti-hare coursing ticket in South East Cambridgeshire. So I wish you well!