It’s not often that I genuinely don’t believe what I am seeing with my own eyes. I must admit that when I saw the headlines about the comment from Brooks Newmark I assumed that, on closer reading, it would turn out that the new Minister for Civil Society was suffering from media hyperbole.
Or at least a misquote. Or a an off-the cuff-remark being taken out of context would have sufficed. It happens all the time. Surely this couldn’t be so? Not from the Minister himself. But I was amazed to find on closer reading that he is quite open and brazen about this. And I quote:
“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 helping others.” He added “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics…”
(Yes, dear reader, if you feel like you may just want to read that over again, or that you should have gone to Spec savers after all, I’m with you. In fact I can’t still quite believe that I’m typing this.)
Now, if I had overheard this remark down the pub, in a queue at the supermarket or even picked it out from the ubiquitous Twitter or Facebook feed of Mr. or Ms. anonymous, I’d have to give them the benefit of free speech and, hopefully, uninformed ignorance. But these words are from The Minister Given The Job Of Representing Societies and Charities!
It seems he is a bit miffed that some charitable organizations, such as Oxfam, are ‘interfering’ in his world of politics by, can you believe it, actually campaigning for change on political issues! Whatever next?
So firstly I ask the question of how this man became a minister, never mind a politician, without understanding the fundamental structure of a democracy? (And here I have to check what I’m reading again, it’s surely too absurd.)
Is this really a minister of Her Majesty’s Government, giving a public speech stating that a certain group of society should not engage in their democratic right to petition ministers? ‘Keep out of what you don’t understand, let the grown up politicians make the big decisions.’
(I’m not going to lower myself to deal with his decision to use ‘knitting’ as a description of the work of a charity, except to say that he is as good as putting a ‘dear’ on the end of that statement. Hang on. Now where have I heard someone in Parliament use that term before..?)
The second thing I really don’t understand is that he’s chosen the Charity Sector as his target. Now, Tobacco industries, Chemical Weapons manufacturers, Multinational Conglomerates, maybe even Estate Agents and I could see his point, but charities?
Never mind a big thing like Democracy, does Mr Newmark understand how Charities work? Or is he just treating the rest of us like imbeciles?
Let’s see if we can help him out.
Actually Mr Newmark, when we give to – or even campaign or work for – charities, believe it or not, we don’t think of them as a group of ‘do-gooders’ sitting around drinking tea and knitting. We give our money and time to these charities because they are giving their lives to transform the lives of the poor, the poorly and the abused. They are frequently risking their own lives to do so and, most importantly of all, they are usually doing so in spite of the mess that the politicians have made of things.
I don’t think I’m alone in applauding that the charity sector has, over the last ten years or so, woken up the fact that real and lasting change for the better is not going to be brought about through more coffee mornings or jumbles sales (or even more knitting), but through political change.
Here’s a little example. Oxfam recently estimated that the money which is currently being kept back from the public purse through the use of tax havens is more than $15oBillion (£100 Billion). Enough money to end extreme poverty twice over. So, understandably (except if you are Brooks Newmark), Oxfam have not reached for their knitting needles and wool but reached for their MP’s instead. And asked them to act. That’s called ‘Democracy’.
Yes, I expect my donation to go to help the people who need it. I expect there to be people on the ground in the situations, working alongside whoever needs their help. But what Mr Newmark misses; wildly, spectacularly, and with an air of arrogance that I find incredibly unsettling, is that as a member of a democracy (that word again), I even hold the charities to account.
I hope to see some change take place as a result of our giving. I don’t see Aid work as a bottomless pit. Or as a recreational occupation for old ladies.
And when the change needed is at the political level, I give so that the charities can present their arguments to…here it comes…the Ministers responsible. And that means YOU Mr Newmark.
So, you can see why he’s upset. All these charities asking all these awkward questions of these poor Ministers, who just want to be left alone to carry on doing things their way.
Well Mr Newmark, having (almost) got over my amazement at your public declaration of intent, I’ve realised that the only way, apart from this response, that I can fully explain to you what I mean is this: I am going to exorcise my democratic right by –
- Continuing to write to my MP, on behalf of my chosen charities, calling upon them to petition you for a response.
- Using as much time and money as I can spare to support charities (rather than political parties)
- At the next election I will use my vote – and it won’t be for you to continue in office.
Sorry, but that’s how a democracy really works.
Speaking of which, I’m running the London Royal Parks Half Marathon on October – for Christian Aid, (not their knitting club). If you’d like to sponsor me find my Just giving page at: