Charlie Elphicke is Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP.

Ed Miliband and the Labour Party have been struggling to come up with policies to govern Britain. They need all the help they can get. Yet seeking to outsource policy creation to a charity, in the shape of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), is not the right way. Charities must be independent and not in the pocket of any political party.

In June 2014, I raised concerns with the Charity Commission regarding the very close relationship between the Labour Party and the IPPR. On 20th January 2014, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves MP announced a Labour policy on welfare at the IPPR, which the IPPR then announced it would be costing and analysing. She indicated to the Yorkshire Post that she had commissioned this work. Separately, speaking of IPPR’s ‘Condition of Britain’ report, Labour policy chief Jon Cruddas MP declared that the report is ‘important to the policy review I am leading’ and ‘important to Labour’s One Nation politics’.

The Charity Commission have now responded to my complaint with a strong ruling. They found that the IPPR ‘exposed itself to the perception that it supported the development of Labour Party policy’. The report highlighted ‘close involvement with the Labour Party and its representatives throughout the project’ and that the ‘the emerging findings of the research were only made available to the Labour Party on request’. Moreover, the Charity Commission concluded that the ‘the final launch event was used as an opportunity and platform for Labour Party policies to be announced’.

Charity law is very clear on political campaigning. Charity Commission guidance states that ‘a charity must stress its independence and ensure that any involvement it has with political parties is balanced. A charity must not give support or funding to a political party’.  It’s clear from the report that the IPPR crossed the line in the promotion of the ‘Condition of Britain’ report. Emerging report findings were only made available to the Labour Party on request and its launch was used as a platform for Labour policies.

The Commission ruled that, due the high profile of the report and its media exposure, ‘the public perception of the charity’s independence could have been adversely affected’. The IPPR’s and Labour’s careless behaviour risks bringing the charity sector into disrepute in the eyes of the public.

The report also shows that the IPPR thought of themselves as a policy production line for the Labour Party. Yet, as a think tank with charitable status, the organisation should have known better. Their behaviour has been damaging to the charitable sector.

It’s deeply disappointing that the Charity Commission had to step in to censure Labour and the IPPR for their behaviour. They should both have known better. It shouldn’t have been necessary for the watchdog to remind the charity that it should not expose itself to the perception that it supported the development of Labour Party policy.

The IPPR was once known as Tony Blair’s favourite think tank. But that’s no excuse for creating the perception they were using charitable funds to work for a political party. Behaviour like that warps the independence of charities and undermines the political process. But more importantly, it diverts funds from a charity’s real purpose which is to help people in need.

There should be a tightening of the rules on the politicisation of charities. The Charity Commission’s guidance on political campaigning should be strengthened. The charitable status of think tanks like the IPPR should be clarified.