Marginalisation of dissent

Coupling non-violent direct action with good media coverage can give organisations a seat at the negotiating table, but recent trends have made it more difficult to operate campaigns. Measures intended to combat terrorism (see responses to violent extremism) have led to stricter security and more surveillance. There has been an increase in laws and practices that place constraints on campaigners. Furthermore, the increasing privatisation of public space limits where groups can assemble in public.

There has been a recent groundswell against this marginalisation of protest, and new mobile technologies can help expose any suppression of dissent and challenge authority. The Coalition government has pledged to restore civil liberties, but at the same time there is less support for the campaigning role of the VCS. Although there has been a public backlash against some campaigns there are signs that protest movements are re-emerging in response to the economic downturn and cuts.

What are the implications?

  • Increased policing of protests with controversial tactics such as “kettling” in an attempt to maintain order.
  • An increased burden on campaigners to know and comply with the law – (see professionalisation of campaigning).
  • Fewer “insider” collaborative campaigns offering direct opportunities to influence policy.
  • A possible increase in the tension between campaigning and service provision as the VCS becomes more involved in delivering public services.
  • A rise in the number of marches, protests and rallies.
  • A risk of losing public support if campaigns are viewed as too disruptive or confrontational.

Moving Forward?

  • How can you ensure that your engagement does not stop at consultation, but exerts real influence and leads to change?
  • If the campaigning environment becomes more hostile, would your organisation consider using tactics outside established political institutions?
  • When would this become appropriate and what factors would drive your decision?
  • Should your organisation be operating ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ campaigns or a combination of both?

Want to know more?

Is the right to campaign in doubt?

Date: February 2011

Published by: NCVO / Brian Lamb

Format: Web

What is it? A blog post exploring the current environment for VCS organisations who are campaigning for social change.

How useful is it? This short blog post provides a good overview of some of the challenges currently facing the sector – including the political ones linked to the suspicion of charities who campaign from some MPs.

Future Focus: What will campaigning look like in 5 years time

Date: December 2009

Published by: NCVO Foresight

Format: PDF

What is it: A guide looking at the future of campaigning

How useful is it: The PDF version of this document is free to download. It includes a driver on marginalisation of dissent which was the source of this version on the web. It also explores other key trends for Campaigning.

Civil Society: Enabling Dissent

Date: March 2010

Format: PDF

Published by: Carnegie Foundation / Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland

What is it: A write-up of an event looking at the future role of Civil Society in enabling dissent.

How useful is it: It explains the importance of dissent in a democratic society, as well as exploring this idea of marginalisation of dissent in much more detail, before going on to discuss what the response from the VCS might look like.



Last updated at 16:14 Wed 30/Mar/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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