‘Not another one’ – what charities need to know about a snap election

You don’t have to be Brenda from Bristol to feel a little bit glum this morning, waking up to a prime minister seeking an election ahead of the Article 50 deadline at the end of October.

It remains to be seen whether an early election is really on the cards but that doesn’t mean that charities should not be preparing for one in the days, weeks, and possibly months ahead. I’ve looked at what happens next and what you should be thinking about.

When the prime minister calling an election doesn’t mean there will necessarily be an election (yet)

Because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA), prime ministers can no longer call an election unilaterally, so the next step is likely to be a motion for an early election under FTPA. However, unlike when Theresa May chose this route in 2017, it looks unlikely that there will be enough support. Opposition parties are concerned about the government setting the date for the election, a power they retain, for after the Article 50 deadline.

That means they’ve had to look at other mechanisms such as initiating a bill to amend FTPA to pass a 14 October election into law, or voting no confidence in themselves, which they may not have the numbers for.

However, even if there’s no way to force an election now, we can be pretty sure that one is coming. The Conservatives may still want to go to the country sooner rather than later, and if an extension is secured, opposition parties will probably support one, or alternatively may be in a position to win a vote of no confidence.

What you need to be aware of in a snap general election

It’s just over two years since our last snap election, so we’ve now had some practice at least. The first thing to note is it will make it much harder to influence parties’ manifestos. Parties’ policy processes work with a view to producing a manifesto in the months approaching a scheduled election, but in 2017 we understandably saw a mix of rehashed existing policies, and small teams of advisers deciding on new policies. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to influence, but you should probably be realistic about how much you can get in.

It also means that if you haven’t already planned what you’re going to do in a general election, you’re going to have to move pretty swiftly.

For the first time since the 1970s an election campaign could also overlap with party conference season. There hasn’t been much in the way of official commentary on what would happen, but given the financial importance that conferences now have for parties it seems unlikely that they will be cancelled, though they are likely to be significantly more low-key, and will not get the same level of coverage from broadcasters because of the need for balance.

Getting your campaigns right

In an election that is likely to be dominated by Brexit, it may be difficult to get your point heard, so it probably makes sense to make sure your asks are particularly focused. We will, I suspect like many other charities, be producing a manifesto, but it’s worth thinking about whether this is the best way to get your point across, or whether you could be more effective focusing on a single campaign or ask.

Remember as well that now is a good time to make sure you are up to speed on the law around campaigning during elections. You will be able to run policy-based campaigns as normal, but the heightened tensions of elections can make it more challenging to stay on the right side of the line. Most charities will not be affected by the Lobbying Act because of the large amount you need to spend on campaigning that could ‘reasonably be regarded’ to be intended to influence voter behaviour, before you have to register. However, it’s worth making sure you are aware of the rules so you can campaign confidently.

We rounded up the things you need to know in 2017, and will update this for 2019, and it’s also worth keeping an eye on any updates from the Charity Commission and Electoral Commission.


NVCO/Bates Wells Trustee Conference 2019

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Avatar photo Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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