Our allotments hut will soon have a very special feature. We codgers have purchased one of the ceramic poppies that have produced such a beautiful tribute to the fallen at the London Tower moat. Several of us remember the horrendous loss of family members during the second world war, and of hearing stories of earlier ones cut down in the insane slaughter of the first. Our poppy will serve to constantly remind us of the sacrifice made to thwart threats to the freedom of these islands.
To one of our number memories are tinged with bitterness. He lost a son in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, and he finds no consolation in thoughts of a valiant defence. Like many others his loss was the result of the political ambition of one man, who lied to the nation and triggered an un-winnable war that achieved nothing and, far from defending our nation, put it at greater risk from madmen serving an imaginary and merciless God. It was perhaps significant that the Lib Dem party was the only one that opposed Blair. At the time its leading figures included several such as Ashdown and Campbell who had witnessed at first hand the senseless brutality of armed conflict. To Blair and our present leaders a war zone represents nothing more that a PR opportunity, a place to visit accompanied by armed guards and TV cameras.
With memories of yesterday’s two-minute silence fresh in our minds we were in a sombre mood when we retired to the hut this morning. At such moments we still draw inspiration from the leadership of Winston Churchill. Here was a man who had already experienced the horrors to which he was directing others. In his embrace of Stalin be knew only too well that it was better to sup with the devil than fight him if he could help in keeping a common foe from our shores. Contrast that with David Cameron’s constant verbal assaults on Vladimir Putin. Does a lamb constantly provoke a wolf if it represents no direct threat?
A stupid unthinking one does. But we can forgive that, coming as it does from politicians whose entire experience of life comprises university followed by politics. What we find harder to forgive is the abuse and intimidation of our charities, without which many of our ex-servicemen and women would struggle to survive. A few weeks ago Brooks Newmark, then minister for civil society, reacted to several charities that had spoken out about poverty by declaring that they should “stay out of the realms of politics and stick to their knitting”. Conservative MP Conor Burns reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission for campaigning on poverty in Britain, and Iain Duncan Smith warned the Trussell Trust that it could be “shut down” for highlighting food banks.
It is increasingly the case that controversial policy decisions are being left unchallenged by charities which fear retribution from ministers. One of Britain’s most respected charity figures, the disability activist Sir Bert Massie, has said that; “The government is doing its utmost to ensure that the right of the voluntary sector to campaign against harmful policies is increasingly diminished”. In a report released by the Civil Exchange think-tank, he said that ministers “have introduced many policies without consultation, ignoring an agreement for 12-week consultations to allow charities to make a serious contribution to the debate”. “It is hard to believe that the bedroom tax would have been introduced had expert voluntary organisations been allowed to offer advice”, he added.
All but the most daring of our major charities are falling silent. Nearly 40 per cent of their income now comes from government, and the threat of losing it is being unleashed the moment any charity implies criticism of government policy. Ministers conveniently forget two things. The reduction in charitable donations reflects the fact that millions are now trapped in the ‘prison’ of low pay, and the funding provided by government is our money.
Most disheartening of all is the attitude of the rich boys to the millions of volunteers who devote so much time and effort to supporting charities. Were they all to accept he advice to “stick to their knitting” this country would find itself in a very sorry state indeed. When Churchill inspired millions to volunteer for duties on the home front he did so not out of the kindness of his heart but because he knew that, when motivated, the people can be a powerful force for good.
In our neck of the woods charities such as the British Legion and Help for Heroes provide essential support for ex-servicemen and women. We all know what Save the Children achieves. Local voluntary groups provide massive support for the NHS, which only yesterday was described by Health Minister Norman Lamb as “nearing total collapse”. Countless other charities marshal their armies of volunteers to work for essential backing for every troubled sector of society. Without them the inadequacies of government would be far more visible.
Even more importantly charities involve, and are involved with, millions of people of all walks of life. They are in a position to act as a sounding-board. Had they been consulted on the half-baked scheme to transfer £2 billion of NHS funding to create a ‘Better Care’ community scheme in a bid to reduce hospital admissions it could have been based on real options. Instead the National Audit Office has branded it a “shambles” and a “total waste of public money”. Local charity members could have pointed to potential sites and opportunities and identified pitfalls.
All of the main parties in the Westminster bubble have lost touch with the people and, in so doing, have lost their trust and respect. Our voluntary sector is not a threat, it could provide a vital link with reality. Only fools would dismiss it as a knitting circle. But sadly the fools are running the country.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The public say they are getting cynical about politicians. They should hear how politicians talk about them!”….George Walden.