2015 was a year of surprises. If I’d been making predictions, I doubt I would have come up with the Conservatives winning a majority at the election, the previously unheralded backbencher Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour Party leadership, and that the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir would beat Justin Bieber to Christmas number one.
For this reason, I have no intention of making any specific predictions that I can be held to account for when they inevitably turn out to be wrong – but I do think there are a few things to look out for this year, that will have an impact on how charities seek to manage campaigns and influence politicians.
The Prime Minister’s recent statements indicate that we should be prepared for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership in 2016 – possibly as early as June.
Many charities and their beneficiaries could of course be affected by the answer given by the electorate. Charities will be free to campaign for a ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ vote, subject to guidance set out by the Charity Commission in CC9, but do remember that the law regarding non-party campaigners as set out in the Lobbying Act applies to referendums in the same way as it does to elections.
If your charity should be campaigning one way or the other, now is the time to think about how you can ensure that campaign complies with the law.
Party leadership and the EU
As important as the referendum is in policy terms, it is also likely to have a significant impact on the political environment. There has been much speculation that the Prime Minister could have to resign in the event of a vote to leave, if as expected he backs the campaign to remain.
Even if that does not come to pass, the referendum will be a key opportunity for those who aspire to succeed David Cameron to lay down a marker. With polling suggesting Conservative members are in favour of Brexit, the side ministers come down on could be crucial to their future chances, even if there is no contest for several years.
In May, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be going to the polls to elect their representatives in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont.
Mayors will be elected in London, Bristol, Liverpool and Salford – with Londoners also choosing their London Assembly members, and many across England electing councillors.
As well as being important in themselves, these elections are often used as a yardstick of how the parties are performing, and in particular, MPs opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership will be hovering if the results turn out to be bad for Labour.
However things unfold, the key Labour polling to look out for is the view of party members on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It is only if this level of support falls that those on the right of the party will consider moving against him.
As always, some of the big numbers to look out for will be indicators of how the economy is doing, and particularly the headline growth figures.
The Chancellor was able to manage a number of policy problems he had ahead of the Autumn Statement due to changes to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s underlying forecasts. However, the downside to this is that he now has very little room for manoeuvre, and if growth fails to live up to current OBR projections, he will have to revisit either existing policy decisions, or his current target of a budget surplus in 2019/20.
Stay up to date
All this means that politics in 2016 is likely to be as interesting and unpredictable as in 2015, so the most important thing to remember is to be flexible, and make sure you can adapt your campaigns if political circumstances change.
We’ve produced the Inside Track, a new political update for the first quarter of 2016, to help trustees and senior staff stay on top of everything that’s going on at Whitehall and Westminster. It provides information on key dates, appointments, and legislation and is exclusively available to NCVO members.