|Method||petitions, lobbying MPs, newspaper advertising campaigns, meetings|
|David Babbs (founder, executive director), Blanche Jones (campaigns director), Maddy Carroll (campaigns director), Laura Townshend (communications director)|
38 Degrees is an independent British not-for-profit political-activism organisation that campaigns on a wide range of issues. It describes itself as "progressive" and claims to "campaign for fairness, defend rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy in the UK". In October 2013, it was reported to claim 1.9 million UK members.
The organisation launched on 26 May 2009. Its founders included Gordon Roddick, co-founder of The Body Shop and Henry Tinsley, ex-chairman of Green & Black's chocolate. The organisation launched during the United Kingdom parliamentary expenses scandal, and this formed the backdrop to early campaigns demanding voters were given more powers to sack MPs.
The founding Executive Director was David Babbs. Babbs was formerly Head of Activism at Friends of the Earth where he was responsible for the Big Ask Campaign. Babbs also previously worked at People & Planet. Other early staff included Hannah Lownsborough and Johnny Chatterton.
At launch 38 Degrees said it was inspired by groups like MoveOn in the United States, GetUp! in Australia and Avaaz globally. These organisations all use the internet to mobilise people and connect them and their governments. 38 Degrees says that an organisation based on a similar model was needed in the UK.
38 Degrees is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. It was previously registered as Progressive Majority. It has a decentralised and informal structure, with management above a flat-line membership structure. 38 degrees also claims its campaigns are selected by its members under its "Campaigns by You".
David Babbs is founder and Executive Director. He signs off some emails, appears in the media and frequently speaks at local 38 Degrees events. He has also represented 38 Degrees in front of parliamentary select committees. Babbs describes his motivation for campaigning as coming from "a gut feeling that things could be better, politically, socially, and environmentally and that the reason they’re not is largely due to the conscious actions of powerful people rather than due to bad luck or any sort of natural order. Campaigning together is how we work together to challenge that and change things.".
The Chair of the Board is Gordon Roddick, who is best known as co-founder of The Body Shop along with his wife, Anita Roddick. Gordon Roddick is also associated with a number of other causes including the Big Issue.
Other senior staff include Blanche Jones (Campaigns Director, joined 2013), Maddy Carroll (Campaigns Director, joined 2013) and Laura Townshend (Communications Director, joined 2014).
38 Degrees describes itself as a people-powered and multi-issue movement. It aims to empower UK citizens by providing easy ways for them to take action on the issues they care about, e.g., climate change, human rights and poverty. It claims "it’s 38 Degrees members who set priorities and we decide on what we campaign on together". They publish the results of their membership polls on their website. While 38 Degrees refers to 'members', there is no formal membership and these are simply people on its email mailing list.
Each week 50,000 members, chosen at random, are asked to vote for their top priorities; only ones where there is a strong consensus will be pushed forward. On occasion the whole membership is invited to take part in votes to decide the organisation's position on a newsworthy issue. For example a poll in September 2014 found that members were evenly split on whether to support or oppose military action targeting ISIS in Iraq - as a result 38 Degrees took no position.
Funding comes from small individual donations. The average donation is about £10 but a plea to fund a legal challenge to zero hours contracts asked for just £1 and received 11,000 responses within 48 hours. Part of its success comes from the speed with which 38 Degrees can launch a campaign or find out members’ views.
Campaigning techniques include both online methods, such as mass email, social media, blogs and online petitions, and offline methods, such as calling an MP or visiting a surgery. 38 Degrees has also fundraised from its membership to commission legal advice and to run advertising campaigns.
38 Degrees have diversified their campaign methods and encouraged members to meet up with each other in different venues around the UK. The NHS CCG campaign, for example, has seen members meet up to discuss and plan local campaign actions with a view to meet Clinical Commissioning Groups representatives.
Local 38 Degrees NHS groups have no formal structure unless members present at the initial meeting decide otherwise. They can choose to work with neighbouring 38 Degrees groups or an external group that is sympathetic to the local campaign. There is no doctrine that binds members to certain roles or campaign tactics. To this end, local 38 Degrees groups work semi-autonomously and communicate with the main organisation to share information or request assistance, though they are not obliged to.
38 Degrees has also started organising public meetings in various locations around the UK, focused on their "stop the gagging law" campaign. The local MP and 38 Degrees director David Babbs sometimes speak at these meetings alongside local 38 Degrees members. During this campaign members organised 200 meetings.
Recent "days of action" campaigning against TTIP have involved over ten thousand 38 Degrees members meeting up in their local area to deliver leaflets to the public.
Campaigns By You
38 Degrees have an experimental platform where campaign ideas are chosen, refined and managed by a particular 38 Degrees member. The member acts as the contact and executor of the campaign. The platform can be used by any member and the prerequisite is a clear idea, which often has a local issue as a focal point. The 38 Degrees member gets to choose the issue and then use Campaigns By You platform (CBY) to collect signatures on a digital petition. CBY was developed to give members an opportunity to kick start a campaign in addition to shaping and participating in a preexisting one.
In February 2014, Total Politics wrote: "For an organisation only set up in 2009, 38 Degrees has notched up its fair share of victories. It forced the coalition government's first big U-turn, on the forests sell-off. It called for more free school meals – and Nick Clegg duly announced they were being rolled out for all infants. It raised enough cash to pay for the judicial review which successfully challenged health secretary Jeremy Hunt's plans to shut down key services at Lewisham hospital."
- 38 Degrees was accused of using "militarist" language in an email encouraging members to take part in a vote to decide 38 Degrees' position on UK military action against ISIS in Iraq in 2014. The poll resulted in a split vote and 38 Degrees took no position - angering peace campaigners.
- 38 Degrees has been criticised, particularly by some Members of Parliament, for running campaigns which they consider to be biased and amounting to little more than spam.
- Dominic Raab (Conservative MP) criticised 38 Degrees for allowing members to send "clone emails" to MPs via its website. Raab stated he would lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office about 38 Degrees using his parliamentary email address.
- A number of government politicians strongly criticised 38 Degrees members for their actions campaigning against changes to the NHS. Lord Tyler, described 38 Degrees members as a "rent a mob". In 2011 Transport Minister Simon Burns MP described 38 Degrees members as "almost zombie like" for following 38 Degrees without question.
- 38 Degrees has been accused of "alarmism" and "scaremongering" during the passage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which 38 Degrees has claimed is a "gagging law"
- Some sources have accused 38 Degrees of being left-wing and of having links to the Labour Party. The blog site 38 Degrees debunked, which is run by a Conservative councillor states that "Although 38 Degrees professes to be 'not connected with any political parties' it is intensely political as are its campaigns. On first sight its position seems to be a mixture of mainstream Social Democratic and Green". Conservative MP Robert Halfon described 38 Degrees as "a mass database of centrist/floating voters, albeit with a sizeable minority from the centre left..[which is]...controlled by leftists". 38 Degrees has strongly denied these claims.
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