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The Lobbying Act — What you need to know for a General Election

Now that the UK General Election has been called, political parties have entered campaign mode. Candidates all over the UK are setting out their positions on a range of issues to win votes. The Lobbying Act sets additional rules around what charities can and can't do during an election period.

The election's a great opportunity for candidates to hear the views of the MS community. As a charity, the MS Society is always politically neutral. However, the Lobbying Act sets additional rules around what charities can and can’t do during an election period — to ensure that no individual or organisation can have influence over an election.

These legal restrictions around how we campaign during the election period mean we must take additional steps to ensure that:

  • we're clear about being independent of any political party
  • we don't support one party or candidate over any other
  • any involvement we have with political parties is balanced

An individual may support a political party or campaign for a particular party or candidate in a private capacity. But they must be clear that they're not representing the MS Society.

  1. Dos and don'ts during an election period
  2. Campaigning and political activity
  3. Remaining politically neutral
  4. Cross party engagement
  5. What does all this mean for me as a private individual?
  6. External advice

Dos and don’ts during an election period

Things we can do:

  • Continue campaigning on issues clearly within our charitable interest and purpose
  • Reach out to the candidates and ask their views on issues
  • Publish candidates' views on issues in a neutral format. This means not saying a candidate or party supports our manifesto, or indicating any preference for a specific position or viewpoint.
  • Host a debate between candidates or invite them to issue-focussed events
  • Publish a manifesto or briefing materials on key issues
  • Support our community to get involved in the election, to vote, and to speak with their candidates

Things we can't do:

  • Advocate for any individual party or candidate
  • Explicitly compare the MS Society’s views to those of individual parties or candidates or make any indication that we may agree or disagree with a particular policy or view
  • Donate funds to any individual party or candidate
  • Allow the MS Society to be cited in a candidate’s manifesto/election materials
  • Say that a candidate or party supports our manifesto or our position on a particular issue
  • Use social media to support a candidate or party if it could be perceived that you're representing the MS Society

Campaigning and political activity

During an election period, we can continue with the important campaigning to meet our charitable objectives, to:

  • support and relieve people affected by MS
  • encourage people affected by MS to attain their full potential as members of society by improving their conditions of life
  • promote research into MS and allied conditions and to publish the results

This means existing campaigns on issues such as PIP, better neurology services or improved access to MS treatments aren’t blanketly prohibited by the Lobbying Act. We've been campaigning on these issues for many years, and our calls are rooted in insight about what matters to people affected by MS.

Remaining politically neutral

However, during an election we must not discriminate or demonstrate a preference between political parties. A charity campaigning during an election period can fall foul of the rules if the campaign activity is intended to influence how people vote (or if a reasonable person would think this was the intention). Therefore, we must show an independent, balanced view between parties during an election period.

One example where we need to be careful is if a party supports one of our policy calls as part of its manifesto or explicitly sets out a different policy from what we call for. We can't explicitly support or oppose a party based on its policies, or compare other parties unfavourably because of a policy commitment.

We must also be very careful that the political views of any individual volunteer or staff member don't influence the activities we do or what we say as the MS Society during an election.

Cross party engagement

The Lobbying Act makes it important to try to engage cross party on a cause or issue. So, if we organise a hustings during the election period, we must ensure all major political parties are invited to take part.

Similarly, if we organise a local hustings for people with MS, we need to invite candidates from all the parties standing for election in that area (or above an agreed threshold of voting share that can be considered reasonable and independent). If you're attending a hustings locally and intend to question candidates on the MS Society’s calls, you need to aim your questions in a balanced way at all attendees and ensure you ask as an individual and not as a representative of the MS Society.

What does all this mean for me as a private individual?

Campaigning as a private individual:

You may wish to be involved in party political activities in your individual capacity, including as a candidate. This is permitted so long as you don't identify yourself as being connected to the MS Society while being involved in campaign activities. If you're unsure about how to manage any potential conflict of interest, please contact [email protected].

Social media as a private individual:

Social media channels such as X (formerly Twitter) are a great way of engaging people and getting messages out. But if your account identifies you as being connected to the MS Society, you need to be very careful. If you're backing any party or candidate, it could be seen as the MS Society backing them. So, make it clear that the views you voice on social media are your own and not a reflection of the MS Society.

External advice

Additional advice on what we can and can't do during the election period is available below:

Freedom to Campaign – A handy guide to what you can do under the Lobbying Act

Electoral Commission Guidance for charities (NCVO): the Lobbying Act shouldn’t stop you from campaigning (2019)

Bates Wells (2023): Charities and campaigning ahead of a general election