Political impartiality guidance

This guidance is to help United for Warm Homes groups understand political party impartiality, and how it might affect their campaigning activity.

24 Oct 2022

Friends of the Earth complies with all electoral law and regulations, and is committed to conducting its activity in a way that’s politically impartial. As United for Warm Homes groups are powered by Friends of the Earth, this guidance will help ensure you can comply with the law while continuing to campaign for warm homes.

Party political impartiality

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’s in government or opposition. United for Warm Homes groups agree to party political impartiality when they register as such. 

Allies for environmental and social 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.  

What this means in practice

There’s a difference between being political and being party political. United for Warm Homes groups should of course comment on political decisions – whether that’s 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. Groups can and should also engage with local political parties and seek their support for the United for Warm Homes campaign. 

What you can't do is be party political. 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. This means groups should not support or oppose any specific political party or its candidates. And (local) branches of political parties can’t be part of a group. 

Political impartiality is especially important 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. So, while members of political parties can join a group, group representatives and those who act as spokespeople shouldn’t hold or stand for office with a political party at the same time. 

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 shouldn’t 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 campaign – that’s an important part of how we hold politicians to account. It's also important to be fair and apply the same standard to different parties. 

Give all parties the chance to do the right thing. Whether you’re organising an event, or trying to get local politicians to sign up to a commitment, unless there’s a specific reason not to, it’s important to give all 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 parties that won a seat at the 2019 general election: the Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Green Party in England and Wales, plus Plaid Cymru in Wales. You're 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 political impartiality. When planning public activities, think about how your group’s work will be perceived by the general public – especially if you’re campaigning in alliance with organisations that are politically affiliated to, or which support or oppose, particular parties. 

Focus on your campaign. Your group has a mandate to speak on the need for warm homes that don’t cost the earth. Make sure that whatever you campaign on locally, there’s a clear link to your campaign.

If a complex political situation arises (not covered by the guidance above), then we suggest having a conversation with at least one representative from each member group to agree a reasonable way forward that doesn’t compromise our political impartiality or the integrity of the group or campaign. If a solution isn’t agreed upon, please contact us at [email protected] for assistance.

Solidarity with trade unions

Right now the UK government is set on taking away workers’ rights to strike, at a time when many people are facing the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis, low wages and rising bills.

We believe that change happens when we work together around shared values and common goals. Through United for Warm Homes, groups are fostering relationships within their communities, through faith groups, unions, foodbanks and more, that are built on trust and collaboration. We support groups that wish to support trade unions taking collective action, invite trade union speakers to events or join trade union events, and campaign together.

Groups looking to support solidarity actions with trade unions should be mindful of the following:

  • Some trade unions are affiliated with the Labour Party. Groups can invite members affiliated to the Labour Party along to speak at events, and likewise they can accept an invitation to speak at a Labour-affiliated union event (such as a branch meeting). Connecting the climate and cost-of-living crises together is a powerful way to push for government and all parties to do better. If your group is invited to an event that has a very clear party-affiliated message, such as "Vote out the Conservatives", it’s best to speak with the event organisers and Friends of the Earth regional staff to decide whether attending the event will benefit your local campaign or partnership building and fit within our political impartiality policy.
  • The action should demonstrate a link between the work we do and the work the union is doing – for example, defending industry jobs and supporting a just transition to a low-carbon economy. We want to ensure no workers are left behind as we campaign for warm homes.
  • There are very strict rules related to joining a strike action or picket line. In most instances, only union members and staff from an impacted workplace or industry can join a strike or picket line. However, there are other ways you can support strikes or picket lines, such as sharing pictures on social media, bringing food and drink to strikers, joining a support demonstration, or writing to your MP as a group.  

There's a range of ways groups can support their local trade unions, such as:

  • Retweeting posts (that aren't directly supporting or opposing a political party)
  • Co-hosting events
  • Speaking at rallies 
  • Organising a workshop together
  • Sharing skills and resources with one another.

The list goes on. As long as the action isn't directly supporting or opposing a particular political party, it should be acceptable to get involved. You can of course comment on policies and actions of elected politicians and actions of parties and candidates in relation to warm homes – that's an important part of how we hold politicians to account. It's also important to be fair and apply the same standard to different parties.

Actions that groups shouldn't engage in are:

  • Any actions that target a particular party, for example a Tweet calling for supporters to vote for a candidate.
  • Any illegal rallies or strikes.

If you have any questions about a particular action your local trade union is running and you’d like support, please contact your regional staff member or [email protected]