In less than a week we’ve moved from having a government with a comfortable majority headed for hard Brexit and touting the 'strong and stable' message to a minority government with a severely dented ‘strong and stable’ reputation who may not be able to deliver the hard Brexit they’ve commited to.
Theresa May is determined to press ahead with leading a minority government and we are undoubtedly heading into more volatile times, and potentially another general election, even though the political picture in the North East has remained largely the same, dominated by Labour despite pre-election predictions.
The terms of Brexit, or indeed if it happens at all, are now in question. Theresa May promised Parliament a vote on the terms of our exit from the EU, no doubt assuming she could get those terms through the House of Commons on a strong majority. This is now in doubt. In addition, The Salisbury Convention agreed in 1945 states that the upper house will not oppose measures that were promised in a governing party’s manifesto, but it supposes that the governing party in the Commons has won a majority of seats on its manifesto. Theresa May failed to do this. That means not only will she – or her successor – find it harder to get Brexit through the Commons, but that there is a real chance they will be opposed in the Lords.
We have also seen the return of Michael Gove, a surprise addition to Theresa May’s new cabinet. Gove has said the government would need to push ahead on Brexit with “the maximum possible consensus”, taking into account the views of remain voters.
For the voluntary sector in the North East Brexit and the terms associated with it, if it happens at all, are of huge importance given our trade relationship with Europe has a sizeable impact on the region’s economy and people.
Any future replacement for European funding is also of significance given the levels of funding that come into the region due to its high levels of economic deprivation.
As Vicky Browning at ACEVO has said, when Teresa May first took office she talked of the need to eradicate burning injustice and establish a truly shared society, building a country which works for everyone. Whatever else these volatile times throw at us that must be an ambition worth pursuing, particularly here in the North East and it's an ambition which civil society has a central role in delivering.
It is also encouraging that Gove has said the lack of a majority government means Conservatives will probably have to ease austerity plans and boost spending on public services – here’s hoping!
An encouraging message came from Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Charity Finance Group who said:
"To charities we say: don’t be paralysed by this result. A hung parliament will create uncertainty, but that is our prompt to step up and provide proposals to government. We know that charities will continue to be asked to meet the needs of our society and we should be bold in putting forward policies that break down the barriers to us being as effective as possible."
Both John Barrett, Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition and Vicky Browning, Chief Executive of the charity leaders body Acevo see an opportunity. John Barrett stated
"This is a time for organisations speak up about the big issues they face and their vision for a better future".
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said the difficult issues facing the next government would make it more important than ever that the next government drew on the expertise of the voluntary sector.
I do have some sympathy with the view that Brexit is dominating the agenda and consuming back office support which means that the civil society agenda is pushed to the back of the queue. It has been announced that Tracey Crouch is the new minister for sport and civil society, and some in the sector have expressed concern about this merger of portfolios.
If you want your say don’t forget to register for our forthcoming Annual Conference which has the theme Civil Society. VONNE will be working with the Civil Society Futures Inquiry to ensure the voice of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in the North East is heard.
*This blog was updated on 16 June to reflect the fact Tracey Crouch is the minister for sport and civil society, not John Glen as was originally expected.