Ah, Tina Stowell. I’m afraid that with the use of proper titles, I may perish of sarcasm. Oh well, here’s to you and your “culture wars”, Baroness Laurence of Fox.
I’m a bit late to the party criticising Baroness Stowell, much to my regret. If there’s one thing the current Chair of the Charity Commission does well, it’s building credible and passionate opposition against her job. For a while now I’ve nodded along to Andrew Purkis’ letters in Civil Society News, or applauded the various co-signed sector petitions to the DCMS pleading for transparency and to simply be taken seriously. As Karl Wilding put it back in March “We (the third sector) are part of the solution.” Still, milady’s latest in the rag behind headlines like “ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE”, “FURY AT BBC SEX CHANGE SHOW FOR 6-YEAR-OLDS” and “Are all beautiful women boring?” is one of the more obtusely fraudulent and morally spurious pieces of writing I’ve read in at least 9 days (and I still check the current White House occupant’s Twitter feed), so here we are.
Let me start by agreeing with my honourable colleague, that “the pandemic has shown how important charity is but also how fragile it can be.” Recycled, preeningly sanctimonious affectations aside, the existential issues facing not just the charity sector and the organisations it comprises but also the very concept of a civil society really are legit. The NCVO’s projecting that £10 billion in funding will be lost to the sector. This stuff’s no joke.
How incongruous it is, then, to rail against “the growth of new divisions [in reference to the generalised conduct of a sector] which don’t neatly respect party lines” in the same article: that charities should bow to the whims of party politics, that the ever-changing inclinations of our pearl-clutching ruling classes should dictate what is acceptable to campaign on. The charity sector’s a fluffy place where you bung a fiver in a tin to rescue a rabbit, where you wear a wristband to solve poverty. Bunch of liberals. That stuff with the UK having more foodbanks than it does branches of MacDonald’s, that 1.9 million people used a foodbank in 2019/20, up from just under a thousand in 2008/09, that’s just an unfortunate fact of life. It is what it is. Nothing to do with the same political party being in power since 2010. The party for whose former leader our venerable contessa was Deputy Chief of Staff, to name but one high-profile politically connected job.
Still, “it is even more important that they (charities) demonstrate sensitivity and respect for everyone.” All Politics Matters, am I right?
Well, I will once again concur to Matt Hancock’s non-identical twin, that “issues like Brexit; the exercise and limits of free speech; the root causes of inequality; or how best to tell the story of British history” are “defining politics…which don’t neatly respect party lines.” This attitude is fresh off the back of warning the National Trust that it should “avoid being dragged into culture wars about ‘wokedom’ because they risk damaging the entire sector.” Because the Trust published a report on which of its collections and properties had links to slavery. Apparently, to admit the apolitical facts of the UK aristocracy’s legacy of propagating and benefitting from slavery and colonialism is “woke” now. As if merely being aware of history were somehow unpatriotic.
These issues, like the root causes of inequality, are absolutely and undeniably political. Political because the political system, regardless of governing party, has abused and continued to profit from the power imbalance that keeps its bloodless heart beating. Political because government after government sells weapons of war to genocidal regimes in the Middle East, and then cuts overseas aid. Political because just a few years ago, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty found the UK had violated its human rights obligations through sustained and widespread cuts to social support. And it’s the charity sector’s job, nay, its moral duty, to raise awareness of everyday, sporadic and systemic injustices, to speak truth to power, to make the world a better place.
Our industry, in its frustrating and regressive, motivating and progressive entirety, is not here to stoke the inflated ego of a political appointee, nor is it here to quell the very concept of campaigning and social justice for fear of inspiring the semblance of guilt. The Charity Commission has a crucial role to play in regulating abuses of governance and of trust, but ironically and hypocritically, by attempting to protect hollow political sensibilities, its Chair has yet again succeeded in straining the links between the charity sector and its regulator as well as bolstering its own deep-seated politicisation. Let’s not give in to this craven attempt at self-absolution, but rather treat it as a symbol of positive affirmation, that the charity sector’s rattling the right people.
If you’re feeling especially masochistic, do give the full piece a read here.