Baroness Stowell agrees with the Mail papers that charities must not challenge power - TFN editor Graham Martin disagrees
We came up with the main theme for this edition of TFN magazine some months ago.
It seemed (and hopefully still does) like a good way to round off this most blighted of years, and it also seemed a fitting way of carrying on the messaging of SCVO’s #NeverMoreNeeded campaign.
So we asked a selection of TFN’s regular writers to imagine what 2020, or specifically the pandemic part, would have been like if – in a Sliding Doors stylee – the voluntary sector had never existed.
I’m really pleased with the results – which you can read, starting on p32 of December’s TFN magazine.
However, it was while in the earlyish stages of planning this edition that I read something that wasn’t so much a description of an alternate reality but more a rocket from another dimension.
On one level, it wasn’t so surprising. At the end of November, one time Conservative Party activist and staffer, and failed parliamentary nominee, Tina Stowell had been given a platform in the Daily Mail stable to attack the right of charities to campaign.
So far, so unremarkable. The sort of stuff you read in Mail papers all the time, from the days when the Mail itself was cheering on the Blackshirts to the present day where it calls migrants a “swarm” and prints cartoons depicting them as rats.
Problem is, when writing her piece Tina used her enobled title of Barnoness Stowell of Beeston and, worse again, she used her position as chair of the Charity Commission for England and Wales to justify what she said.
Compounding the insult, she chose the Mail stable – sock puppets for the rich and powerful and not generally well known advocates of the right of charities to hold the powerful to account – to launch her attack.
In case you missed it, here’s Tina, writing in the Mail On Sunday. Charities, she opines, are a “chance to leave our differences behind, not an opportunity to carry on the political struggle by other means.
“There’s more than one way to help those in need, but if you want to improve lives and strengthen communities through charity, you need to leave party politics and the culture wars out of it.”
There’s more of this, all drivel. It ends: “now would be the worst possible moment to jeopardise that goodwill by getting drawn into the culture wars.”
If you’re unsure what “culture wars” are, the MoS immediately – in the same edition – gives a handy illustration by using Tina’s comments to attack charities indulging in the alt-right buzzword and practice of “wokery”, presumably meaning not being racist or cheering on fascists.
We have been here before, of course. Many times. I now almost look back fondly on the days, six years ago, when the hapless Brooks Newmark (then the Cameron government’s charities minister) told voluntary groups to “stick to their knitting” – knitting he really could have done with before hitting send on some grisly late night snaps of himself (Google it if you dare).
For Brooks, Tina, the Mail and all of the austerity-mongers, the song remains the same: charities must be de-fanged, they must not call out political fault, they must be nice. They must be quiet in the face of rampant inequality, mass poverty and mass extinction. They must be attacked when they dare to raise their heads.
Tina’s vision, as laid bare in the Mail, is the best example I can find of a world without the voluntary sector and without wider civil society in any meaningful sense.
Truly a spectre of times past: when charity meant benefaction from the wealthy, but not the right to challenge where that wealth comes from.
In 2021, let’s scare that ghost away. In fact, let’s lay it to rest forever. This is reality as we see it and experience it and we want to change it for the better.
Here’s to a noisy new year and beyond.
Graham Martin is editor of Third Force News.