Political impartiality guidance

This guidance is to help Friends of the Earth local groups and Climate Action groups understand political party impartiality, and how it might affect their campaigning activity.

29 Oct 2019

Friends of the Earth complies with all electoral law and regulations, and we are committed to conducting our activity in a way that is politically impartial. This guidance will help ensure you can comply with the law whilst continuing to speak out on environmental issues – from stopping fracking to cleaning up our air.

Party political impartiality is vital for effective campaigning at any time

Friends of the Earth is proudly party politically impartial – because it’s effective and it’s right. We tell it how we see it no matter who is in government or opposition. Friends of the Earth local groups and Climate Action groups agree to party political impartiality when they register as such.

Allies for environmental justice can come from all sides of the political spectrum. If we assess all parties based on their record and delivery – not on our preferences for a party or a candidate – we can speak out with integrity when politicians do the right thing, and when they don’t. Being party politically impartial will make your campaigning more effective and allow you to build a wide base of support. 

Party political impartiality in practice

There is a difference between being political and being party political. Climate Action groups and Friends of the Earth local groups should of course comment on political decisions - whether that is welcoming them or disagreeing with them. An essential part of campaigning is holding decision makers to account, and groups should feel confident in doing this.

What you can't do, is be party political. This means that all decision makers need to be held to account regardless of their party - you should comment on decisions based on their individual merits, rather than based on who made the decision. During elections, groups can't endorse or campaign for any party or candidate in their constituency, but they can comment on manifesto pledges and promises by the candidates.

A vital part of political impartiality is maintaining the public perception of it. This is why it is important that group representatives in formal group positions or who act as spokespeople do not also hold or stand for office with a political party at the same time.

Friends of the Earth local groups

The Friends of the Earth local group Trademark Licence Agreement states that local groups "should not endorse any Political Party nor work with any Party during an election period; this does not preclude collaborating with Political Parties on specific campaigns where there are clear, shared goals."

Local groups are often seen as ambassadors for Friends of the Earth, so it is especially important that they help to maintain the perception of Friends of the Earth’s impartiality.

Top tips for maintaining political party independence and impartiality

Make sure your group is independent from political parties. This means that group representatives and spokespeople (in particular coordinators and organisers) should not also be candidates or elected representatives (whether for a political party or as an independent), or hold formal office in a local or national party. This is especially important in the run up to elections.

Groups should never support or oppose political parties, elected politicians or candidates, for example by calling on people to vote for or against them. You can of course comment on policies and actions of elected politicians and actions of parties and candidates in relation to the environment – that is an important part of how we hold politicians to account.

Give all parties the chance do the right thing. Whether you’re organising an event, or trying to get local politicians to sign up to a commitment, unless there is a specific reason not to, it is important to give all of the main political parties in your area equal opportunity to attend or speak at your event, make a pledge, etc.

Of course, there are dozens of registered political parties, and for practical reasons we need to prioritise. Friends of the Earth tends to prioritise engagement with the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties. You are not obliged to engage with political parties whose aims fundamentally conflict with our own.

Comment on policies, not motives. Make sure you comment on their policies not what you think their motives might be – comments about motives often sound like expressions of personal political preference.

Think about public perceptions of party politically partial impartiality. When planning public activities, think about how your group's work will be perceived by the general public – especially if you are campaigning in alliance with organisations that are politically affiliated to, or which support or oppose particular parties.

Focus on the environment and sustainable development. Friends of the Earth has a mandate to speak out on the environment and sustainable development. Make sure that whatever you campaign on locally, there is a clear link to environmental protection.

General resources