A bizarro mood was noticeable at this year’s party conferences. At Labour the atmosphere was jubilant, despite them having lost the recent election. At the Conservatives, delegates were despondent despite them being the party forming the government. Such is the nature of the expectations game in politics.
For charities, too, it was a strange environment. Once at the centre of agendas such as the ‘Big Society’, there was, as our CEO Dan Corry said, little discussion of the role of charities and civil society more broadly.
One noticeable trend was that at both main party conferences radicalism was plat de jour—there was certainly thin gruel for any ‘centrist dads’. The must-see Conservative conference fringe featuring a kind of celebrity death match between Jacob Rees-Mogg and Owen Jones was so packed out they were turning people away a full 45 minutes before it even started.
There were few issues that were bigger across the fringes than housing, especially after the recent disaster at Grenfell Tower. Whether some of the political solutions served up were enough to crack one of the biggest social policy crises of a generation remains to be seen. But radicalism driven by charities was evident here. Another packed-out Conservative fringe that also ended up turning people away was on the innovative ‘housing first’ model for tackling homelessness. That’s not a sentence I’d imagine writing only a couple of years ago.
For NPC’s part, we continued our focus on devolution and the role of metro mayors. This year we were particularly interested in how this agenda can be broadened out to encompass philanthropy and civil society, recapturing some of the pioneering spirit of Britain’s industrial past. Andy Burnham, the new metro mayor of Greater Manchester, set out how at our Labour fringe how he is looking to build a new relationship with the voluntary sector.
At the Conservative event there was a noticeable focus on ways to increase the contribution of the corporate sector to build better communities. Victor Adebowale set out how devolution offers a real opportunity to build new cross-sector collaborations to achieve social change. His rallying cry on the need for philanthropy with the scale and vision of George Peabody to really shift the dial underscored the theme of radicalism.
What does this all mean for the sector? Well as NPC has recently argued, incrementalism is increasingly not up to the task. Society faces big problems and people want a vision and action that matches up to the challenge. If charities want to be part of the solution then the sector will need those big, bold ideas to achieve social change.
Where can charities get radical ideas?
Well one place to start is by bringing together some of the most innovative, radical leaders from the sector and beyond. Luckily the conference season continues next week with something that does exactly that: our very own annual event NPC Ignites.
Featuring such luminaries as Polly Neate from Shelter, Mark Atkinson of Scope, Lord Sainsbury, Dr Will Cavendish formerly of DeepMind, and Deborah Mattinson of Britian Thinks, there’s something there to inspire everyone. If you hurry, you can still bag a ticket and end the conference season with a bang.