Nicolas Webb was the general election candidate in Newport West in 2015.
In Mid-August, the Daily Mail ran a story which accused various charities involved in asylum and refugee issues of seeking to undermine the Prime Minister for party political reasons.
My aim in writing today is not to analyse every issue raised in that article, but instead to look at one particular claim: the Mail reported that the trustee boards overseeing the charities were “riddled with Labour supporters”.
This is an odd claim to make in terms of the way charities recruit trustees but, more importantly, it should be setting off alarm bells for Conservatives. The concern should be a lack of Conservative representation.
While I do not think it is a problem limited charities relating to refugee issues, this particular story caught my attention because I am both an active Conservative and a trustee of the Welsh Refugee Council (WRC). The WRC were not referenced in the article although their English sister organisation, the Refugee Council, was cited.
I would like to share a few thoughts on my time with the WRC in the hope that it might encourage more Conservatives to come forward for such roles. I think doing so is not just good for the individual and for party political balance, but is also essential to help important charities think more broadly and reach out beyond their comfort zone.
My interest in the work of the WRC began with a document they sent me about their work when I was a candidate for the 2011 Welsh Assembly elections.
It can be easy to think that a refugee’s story ends when they are granted leave to stay in a safe country, but the challenges of language, state bureaucracy and social integration are only just beginning. Politically, I think a lot of the much-needed debate about better integration becomes lost in soundbites about immigration.
The principle of helping someone who has barely escaped persecution, war or famine to become an active, productive, hard-working, successful British citizen was what appealed to me, and I would argue is very consistent with Conservative values.
A couple of years later I saw an advert for trustees and I applied. As it turned out, it wasn’t a particularly competitive process. There were a few vacancies and I was invited to meet with Salah Mohamed, the chief executive, and Anna Nicholl, chairperson of the board of trustees. It was more of a chat than an interview; my name along with that of one other was put to the membership to vote on whether we should become board members.
Having seen the process that the WRC went through, it strikes me as utter nonsense to refer to a Labour dominance as being the fault of the charity. This was a body which was in urgent need of new members for its board. I saw no indication that any sifting process took place which was motivated by political allegiance.
It is hardly the fault of a charity if more Labour supporters offer their services than Conservatives. That imbalance is, though, a challenge to which Conservatives should rise.
It is also important for the charities themselves. By having a range of experiences, including political, on the board, an organisation can take a broader perspective and adopt a more influential view.
Forgive me a sweeping generalisation, but I think there are too many organisations which are limited in what they can achieve because they only seek to talk to those they expect to nod in sympathetic agreement. It is quite another matter whether that politician then acts upon the sympathy expressed.
Some of those organisations have been stung by the general election result and now realise that they have failed to reach out to the people who ended up with the power to make the change they are campaigning for.
I wouldn’t like to overstate my role with the WRC. I am one of many trustees and my role does not come close to the huge contribution made by the superb frontline staff, both professional and voluntary. However, I do have a part to play and I take it seriously.
Throughout the summer, coverage of asylum issues has been both prominent and very emotive. When undertaking its role of advocating on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees, the charity needs a consistent, effective public message and formulating it requires a process of robust internal discussion.
At no point have I ever sought to take a partisan line, but the same values which make me identify as a Conservative inevitably underpin my approach to helping those supported by the charity. I don’t claim to offer more than any other trustee, but the loss of any point of view would diminish the WRC’s ability to advocate effectively and serve those in need.
I have reflected my own experience here, but readers of this article will have other areas of interest where services are provided by the charitable sector that will also offer opportunities to get involved. I regard my work with the WRC as one of the most important things I do and, while the issues can be challenging, I find it fulfilling and I’m proud of the work the whole organisation does.
I cannot speak for any scenario other than my own and I am fortunate to be working with people such as Anna and Salah who are keen to encourage a range of views and open to engaging widely.
My message to fellow Conservatives is that if there is a left-wing dominance in the charitable sector, then the solution is in our own hands. I know the Conservatives I meet have a lot to offer beyond just party politics.