05/09/2014 11:30 BST | Updated 04/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Let'sNot Get in a Knot Over Knitting

Remarks by Minister for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark, that charities should 'stick to their knitting' led to a - perhaps unsurprising - backlash on social media on Wednesday night. But, in a way, I think the Minister's right - knitting's what charities do very effectively, but it might not be the sort of knitting Mr Newmark has in mind.

From the outset, I have to hold the 'panda paws' up, and confess that we did engage in a knitting campaign as recently as January. As part of Cold Homes Week we joined with 100 other organisations - including charities likes Age-UK to push for the Energy Bill to include measure to improve energy efficiency in homes, to address the problem of 1-in-5 people in the UK living in homes that they can't afford to heat.

Mr Newmark's advocacy of knitting as the primary pursuit of charities came alongside a suggestion that charities should - rather than straying "into the realm of politics" - do "the best they can to promote their agenda".

But one thing charities do well is to knit together the threads of the range of issues important to us, in order to propose positive solutions to the challenges we seek to address. And having knitted together positive solutions we obviously want to show them off - hence our advocacy to politicians, businesses and others. And I assume the Minister for Civil Society is aware of the millions of people who support the missions of charities through their donations and by joining us in advocacy as part of the democratic process.

I'm sure the Minister wouldn't oppose the advocacy work of Macmillan, for example. Better known for their sensitive care of people with terminal cancer, Macmillan recently achieved - with the passionate support of Mr Newmark's fellow Conservative MP, Robert Halfon - success in their campaign for the Department of Health to reform hospital car parking fees.

Nor should he object to the political advocacy campaign of Action for Children which achieved a commitment in the recent Queen's Speech that a Bill would be introduced to update the 80-year old legislation on child neglect

And I wonder whether he considers it as too much a 'stray into the realm of politics' for WWF and TRAFFIC to work with then-Foreign Secretary William Hague and others on promoting international action - including policy changes and resource allocation, at home and abroad - to address the illegal wildlife trade

In the case of the Warm Homes Week campaign, our advocacy didn't achieve the degree of policy change those supporting the initiative wanted to see. If it had, improvements to the Energy Bill might have done more to prevent some - mainly poor, often old - people having to choose between heating their homes and eating when winter comes. So, knitting didn't work in this case...

But the above are just a few examples of what charities do - influencing, and seeking to change, political decisions and outcomes - outcomes that matter for people who support our missions. The 'realm of politics' in democratic countries like ours has always involved those who seek to improve the world in which we live. It's part of the fabric of our society. It should be a comfort to us all (a bit like a nicely knitted woolly jumper).