April 16, 2015; Civil Society

Charities Aid Foundation’s Steve Clapperton has done for the British political parties—the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Greens, and UKIP—what we would love to do regarding American political parties (and we only have two with legitimate possibilities of power in Congress and the White House): He compared their published party “manifestos” to determine where they stood on issues of concern to nonprofits in the UK.

He discovered that “in the charity world at least there appears to be much more consensus between the parties than might have been expected.” With the exception of the UKIP on the far right, the parties largely support social enterprise, social impact bonds, and cooperatives, though the Green Party puts a special emphasis on co-ops. Again, aside from UKIP, the parties all have ideas for promoting volunteering, though the Conservatives are proposing that people get three days a year of paid-time for volunteering. The parties seem to all share some misgivings about the nation’s widely criticized Lobbying Act, though Labour and the Greens call explicitly for repeal while the Conservatives only pledge to examine it carefully. The Conservatives, Liberals, and Labour all call for maintaining the UK’s commitment to international aid at 0.7 percent of Gross National Income, but the Green Party wants that percentage raised and the UKIP lowered.

A couple of things strike us about Clapperton’s report. First, it is attractive, for whatever it may be worth, that the British political parties include in their manifestos explicit statements and commitments about nonprofit policies. With our Democrats and Republicans, nonprofit policy issues framed in nonprofit terms rarely enter the national political debates. Some of that is clearly our own fault, as nonprofit leaders have often been content with or even campaigned to get politicians to make “I (heart) nonprofits” statements and consider the utterance of a few mom and apple pie nonprofit sentiments as success.

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Second, our political parties actually don’t issue much of a party manifesto except, perhaps, as the party platforms issued at their presidential conventions. As is well known, the presidential nominees usually keep their distance from the platform debates, fearful that the platforms might include something that the candidates will have to spend the remainder of the campaign disavowing. Up to the point of the conventions, the multiple presidential candidates in both parties often have little to say about nonprofits and evidence relatively little policy convergence other than their dislike of the alternative party. Now that putative Democratic candidates Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, and Lincoln Chafee, the former governor of Rhode Island, have begun making criticisms of Hillary Clinton by name, there may be some Republican-like dissensus among Democratic aspirants, but we would expect little in their remarks to be distinctive about the nonprofit sector. Among the Republicans, ranging from Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio to Lindsay Graham and Jeb Bush, there will be the broad-brush statements about how charities should be encouraged to do things that government can’t or shouldn’t, but if you expect to hear many policy specifics from them, you may be waiting a long time.

Clapperton has it easy. We’ll bet the Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative manifestos contain enumerated specifics on nonprofit policy that we could only dream about seeing in Republican and Democratic platforms, much less being articulated on the stump by the eventual candidates.—Rick Cohen