Political impartiality guidance

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

24 May 2024

Friends of the Earth complies with all electoral law and regulations, and we're committed to conducting our activity in a way that's politically impartial. This guidance will help ensure you can comply with the law while continuing to speak out on environmental issues – from stopping fossil fuel extraction 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's in government or opposition. Friends of the Earth 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's a difference between being political and being party political. Friends of the Earth 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.

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's important that group representatives in formal group positions or who act as spokespeople don't also hold or stand for office with a political party at the same time.

Friends of the Earth local action groups

The Friends of the Earth local action group charter states that local action 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 action groups are often seen as ambassadors for Friends of the Earth, so it's 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 co-ordinators and organisers) 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 environment – 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 of the main political parties in your area equal opportunity to participate, eg. attending or speaking at your event, making 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 that 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's a clear link to environmental protection.

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’ve always believed that change happens when we work together around shared values and common goals. Some groups in our network have built strong, long-term alliances with trade unions and support one another’s calls for social and environmental justice. Through our campaign 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 local action groups that wish to support trade unions taking collective action, invite trade union speakers to events or join trade union events, and campaign together.

Local action groups looking to support solidarity actions with trade unions should be mindful of the following:

  • Some trade unions are affiliated with the Labour Party. Local action 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 climate justice. Another example is environment groups and unions working together to call for the right to peaceful protest. 
  • 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 (check out our guide to building alliances). 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 the environment – 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 local action 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]