Advice & Query 34
Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.
You may have heard there is a General Election on the near horizon…
There are Quakers standing for election, campaigning for various political parties and on behalf of pressure groups. However, corporately there isn’t one party that Quakers are supporting – as a registered charity that is something we aren’t legally allowed to do.
Is there a plan for your Meeting to organise a hustings to quiz the candidates? Or a public meeting to discuss issues that are relevant to the elections? These are things we are not only allowed to do but encouraged – there is a new website Quaker Vote supported by staff at Friends House to give more information about the election and issues we may as Quakers be interested in.
Such events can be a great use of the skills and interests of the members of the worshipping community and the wider community – as well as the building. They can be a form of outreach and a way of generating interest in Quaker views.
However, there is a difference between what we do as individuals, and what is done with our Meeting Houses or on behalf of our Local Meeting. Most Area Meetings are Registered Charities – and all are part of Britain Yearly Meeting which is also a Registered Charity. This means that there are laws to prevent charities using their assets – such as a building to support a specific political party.
Many meeting houses have a room hire policy that states that they don’t hire rooms to political parties – this is to prevent any one political party becoming seen as ‘Quaker’ as well as preventing people thinking, ‘All Quakers must be xxxx’ as they saw a meeting house associated with one. For example there was an instance where a meeting was unhappy to find by a reporter for the local newspaper had photographed ‘The local Green Party outside their campaign headquarters’ with the Quaker Meeting House sign clearly visible behind.
Jessica Metheringham is the Parliamentary Engagement Officer working on our behalf at Friends House. Recently she wrote:
Any political activity which a meeting undertakes will fit into the following four categories. It may be than an activity falls across two categories. A political activity could be anything, whether that means making a statement, handing out leaflets, or holding a vigil.
The four categories are:
- Completely party-neutral with no mention of any party or anything which could be implied to be any party. This doesn’t mean it’s not political, just not party-political. For example, “we support same-sex marriage”.
- Implying that we broadly agree with a party position. Most of what we say about replacing Trident falls into this category.
- Explicitly saying or strongly implying that a party agrees with us, or us with them. For example, if we said, “a vote for the Green Party is a vote against fracking”, it would fall into this category.
- Giving a party a donation-in-kind, either by hosting an event for less than commercial rates or by displaying their logo in such a way that our leaflets appear to be their leaflets.
Category four is against charity regulations – it’s illegal for charities to give any sort of donation to a political party. Meetings should not give political parties donations. (Most meetings are charities or religious exempt charities.)
Category one is obviously fine. Category two is also fine. Meetings speaking out on issues such as equality are likely to say and do things which fall into these categories.
Category three may also be fine, but I would like meetings to consider exactly what sort of activities they are carrying out, to ensure that they are not donations-in-kind.
I would strongly suggest that, between 30 March and 7 May:
Meetings do not hold joint events with political parties
Meetings do not hire out rooms to political parties at less than normal rates
Meetings do not allow political campaign events (except for hustings) to happen in the meeting house
Meeting do not hold events promoting a parliamentary candidate – even if that person is a member of the meeting
For more information do check out the new colourful website: Quaker Vote.
- What is happening in your area ?
- How does your meeting interact with its local MPs and Council?