Minister criticised over ‘stick to knitting’ remarks

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The minister responsible for David Cameron’s Big Society drive is embroiled in a row after telling charities to “stick to their knitting” and keep out of politics.

Brooks Newmark, who was appointed in the summer reshuffle, used his first major intervention to criticise organisations that “stray” from their core functions.

According to the website, Mr Newmark told a conference on social action: “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics.

Some 99.9 pr cent do exactly that. When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money.”

He added: “The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others.”

Alexandra Runswick, director of campaign group Unlock Democracy, branded the Tory MP’s words “condescending”, arguing that said charities “should be able to advocate, not just knit”.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote on Twitter: “Incredibly insulting for charities minister to tell civil society to ‘stick to its knitting’. “

Shadow minister for civil society Lisa Nandy said Mr Newmark was spouting “patronising rubbish”.

“It’s his first speech as charities minister, and I think it’s not just patronising but deeply offensive at a time when charities are picking up the pieces from this Government’s unfair policies, their ministers would talk about them in such a dismissive way.”

“This comes from a Government that hasn’t just introduced the Lobbying Act but has also restricted charities using judicial review, cut legal aid, and clamped down on immigration appeals.