Opportunity and influence: the third sector and the 2010 general election

Briefing and working paper series: no 44

In this paper, we explore the role of the third sector in the 2010 general election, and the success of their voices in shaping the new political landscape.

Our research involved interviews with key policy actors in the sector and analysed political and third sector manifestos. We examine the ideological significance of language used and the relative success of different campaigning methods.

Voluntary, community and social enterprise groups and issues experienced a high political profile during the election, and there was broad consensus about the value of the sector. But analysis of manifestos and political discourse also highlights key differences in how its role was viewed.

The research highlights the raised profile achieved early in the campaign, followed by relative lack of substantive discussion later in the election. Since the formation of the new coalition government, the re-emergence of Big Society as a central policy theme has given the sector a platform on which to debate.

While long-term policy outcomes are still being determined, organisations were able to draw some lessons on the kind of campaigning that had proved most effective for them.

Lessons for campaigning

Key points were made about:

  • Diplomacy and presenting oneself as ‘solution-focused’.
  • developing good quality relationships with civil servants and other public
  • the use of organisational manifestos,
  • the challenge of making voices newsworthy at a national level
  • self-censorship as restricting campaigning to some extent

Research contacts
Dr Jane Parry, Professor Pete Alcock and Dr Jeremy Kendall