I had an interesting afternoon/evening yesterday. First up was a seminar organised jointly between the UK Social Investment Forum, Oxfam and Unison focusing on NGOs and capital market campaigning. It was Chatham House rules, which means I can't tell you who said what. But broadly it was split into presentations by two NGO-friendly fund managers, followed by some case studies of NGO campaigns, and an overview of trade union capital stewardship activity from the TUC and Unison.
I thought there was quite a striking difference between the presentations from the union perspective and that of other NGOs. The union approach is more comprehensive, with quite a bit of emphasis on, for example, training up trustees, and strengthening the governance of pension schemes. In contrast the NGOs were almost exclusively interested in one-off campaigns, rather than trying to shape the system. Obviously there is room for both approaches, but you can't help thinking that a bit of cross-fertilisation is in order. It would be nice to see other civil society groups taking up the idea of democratising pension funds for example. But it's also notable that unions lag behind other NGOs in terms of using capital market activism as an extra campaigning tool.
Good seminar all round, and it's encouraging that these groups are talking to each other. I hope the NGOs there who haven't been involved in this type of activity learnt something, and are inspired to undertake similar activity.
After the seminar I headed down to my old workplace, Congress House, to take part in an early evening roundtable about how unions can use blogging more effectively. It was good to put some names to faces, Richard Murphy from Tax Research was there, as was Paul from Never Trust A Hippy, and Mr Gray. Also Nigel from TUC talked about the decision to launch Touchstone, which is developing into a key (and much-needed) Left of centre policy-oriented blog.
There was quite an interesting discussion about the best way to blog. Most of us agreed that the best blogs find their niche and plug away, and that they are less good when they veer into general political commentary. There seemed to be a definite feeling that it could hard for unions to avoid having a dull 'corporate' style blog if they are used to keeping a tight leash on communications. The consensus also seemed to be that general secretary blogs were a bit of a mare. There was also scepticism that blogging could replace journalism (though I don't think anyone had suggested it would).
Anyway, after the seminar we bundled along to the TUC campaigns and comms team's annual xmas bash, where I bumped into some old faces, and John has a picture of us, the creme of Left blogging (!), on his site. I'm on the left, looking a bit sheepish.