Five minutes in parliament – February 2014

Charlotte’s first post in a series bringing you a five minute update on key developments from Westminster each month.

Learning from the lobbying bill

It’s fair to say my first few weeks at NCVO have been dominated by the lobbying bill, which received royal assent last week. I won’t duplicate Elizabeth’s excellent update on what the legislation will mean for charities, but there are a few lessons to be learned about  about how best to engage with Parliament.


Broadly speaking:

  • peers have specialist areas and bring detailed scrutiny to legislation
  • MPs are more likely to be generalists and are often very pressed for time.

To have most impact, the briefings sent to them on issues before parliament should reflect this:

  • detailed, technical briefings for peers
  • succinct, key points for MPs.

This is particularly important when legislation moves as quickly as the lobbying bill did.

Winning votes

A victory in the Lords does not necessarily translate to a victory in the Commons because of the different compositions of the two houses. Amendments to the lobbying bill that succeeded in the Lords lost in the Commons by an ample margin. The main difference here was the impact of the crossbenchers, a sizeable group of peers not affiliated with any political party. Independent MPs are rare and so the government’s fortunes can vary hugely between the two houses because of this discrepancy of their majority. It matters not just how much support you have but which parties that support comes from.

Tangled up in Europe

Funding for the Europe for Citizens programme has also just become law through the EU (Approvals) Act. It is not contentious in itself – funding Holocaust remembrance initiatives and ENNA among other things. However, the debates in parliament have become caught up in wider political debate about the UK’s involvement in Europe. NCVO was prepared for this and briefed MPs and ministers accordingly. It is an example of how important it can be to be aware of the wider political context an issue is considered in.

Manifesto development

Recently NCVO met with Lisa Nandy, Shadow Minister for Civil Society. The meeting covered a range of issues facing the sector, as well as looking ahead to policies for 2015.

A common question we are asked at the moment is whether it is too late, too early or just the right time to be influencing party policy development. To an extent, this depends on what the policy is. Each party has its own unique process for manifesto development, and even within those, different policy areas are moving at very different speeds. It would be fair to say that, for example, childcare policies are broadly set now, whilst civil society policy remains very open. There is still plenty of time to contribute ideas to the parties.

2015 Project

This leads nicely to NCVO’s 2015 Project, devising a manifesto that will look at the issues facing the future government of 2015, how civil society can play a role in offering solutions and what government could do to support this.

We held our final regional consultation event at the end of January, hearing more about the fantastic work members are doing and the innovative ways they are responding to the difficult operating environment. We are now collating the many responses we received and we will be able to share a draft with members in the coming months.

Tomorrow’s parliament

At this stage in the election cycle there is a steady stream of MPs announcing that they will stand down at the next election. This is accompanied by the mirroring announcements of parties’ prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs).

It is worth engaging with your local PPCs now when they will appreciate information and visit opportunities most, particularly if you are in a marginal constituency (the BBC have a helpful list here). It’s also relatively easy to do. Each party has a list of candidates on their website and almost all PPCs can be found on Twitter.

Recommended reading

  1. Isabel Hardman’s Spectator article on the unfavourable working conditions in parliament suggests why so many MPs are stepping down at the next election. She may even make you feel sorry for your sleep-deprived, distrusted MP sat in a cold, mouse-infested office grappling with labyrinthine IPSA procedure. Maybe.
  2. Nothing makes me happier than political polling. With no one able to rule out another coalition in 2015 ‒ and even Ed Balls attempting to court Nick Clegg ‒ imagine my excitement when IPSOS Mori published polling results on party supporters’ favoured coalition partners. It throws up some surprising results. Namely, Conservative voters favour the Liberal Democrats to UKIP, and the feeling is mutual ‒ Liberal Democrats favour the Conservatives to Labour. It’s a reminder that party activists, whilst very vocal, are not always very representative of a party’s wider voter base.
  3. Michael Deacon, the Telegraph parliamentary sketch writer. Michael is easily the funniest man in Westminster, but he’s insightful too. Learn about political strategy as you laugh. Here is a recent offering on the parties’ clash at PMQs on higher income tax.
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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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