What's the difference between lobbying and telling your elected (or would be elected) representatives what you want from them? Is it whether it's done well or badly? Or whether it costs money or not? It seems that politicians just don't want to be asked for pledges, so that those asking can't publicise their refusals, or - worse - their subsequent failures to honour their promises.
The political parties are losing members by the hour, but still they consider themselves the moral superiors of every other group in society. I certainly hold no brief for the politicised fake charities of Britain. I am all for holding the entire third sector to the original definition of charity in the Statute of Elizabeth and treating all who fail to meet that definition as the political parties in disguise that they are. Nor am I fond of 'single issue fanatic' groups, professional lobbyists or 'think tanks' that are fronts for political parties.
But it is not for politicians to tell us how or when to talk to them. It is for them to shut up and listen. They are servants, not masters and are getting entirely too uppity.
This is a bad law and another embarrassment to Britain in the world.
Of the £468,500 ASH received in grants and donations in 2006/07, £403,800 came from the Scottish Parliament. The remainder came from Health Scotland (which is part of NHS Scotland) and the British Heart Foundation (which receives £4m from the government).
The site also reveals that a mere £8,000 of Alcohol Concern's £1.1 million income comes from non-state sources. In what sense can such a state-funded organisation be seen as anything other than an arm of government?
Most pernicious of all are those (like ASH and Alcohol Concern) that are funded by government to lobby government for changes in the law desired by government. There is no way that such "astroturfing" can be characterised as anything but fraud. It involves multiple frauds actually. Government takes money from taxpayers under the false pretence that it is needed to fund legitimate state activity and then gives it to organisations lobbying for a bigger state. Those organisations raise money from genuinely charitable citizens seeking to alleviate genuine suffering but actually run political campaigns at the instigation of politicians. The lobbying funded by the government is then presented as "evidence" of a public desire for more state interference along lines desired by the ruling party.
The tobacco control lobby (ASH is often regarded as the prototype for this perversion of charity) is the most obvious example of a political campaign for less individual freedom and more state power disguised as a charity, but there are many more. It was just such activity that caused me to cancel my monthly donations to the NSPCC some years ago. Ed Balls was promoting legislation to limit home schooling and force all children to submit to the politically-shaped National Curriculum. An NSPCC employee interviewed by The Independent on the subject disgracefully smeared home-schooling families by suggesting their activities were a cover for child abuse. The NSPCC has since apologised under pressure from understandably-irate home-schoolers but I don't doubt it - and other government-funded fake charities - would do it again. Such conduct is inevitable if millions of pounds of government funding are at risk whenever a Minister of the Crown is disappointed.
At the heart of this is a moral point. Charity is a wonderful activity. The religious say it's good for the 'soul' and the rest of us (agreeing with the sentiment if not the words) regard the charitable impulse as the litmus test for a decent human. But while statists will warp this story into an imagined attack on charity itself, the truth is there can be no charity in any state-funded activity. Every resource the government has was taken by force. The OED defines "charity" as
The voluntary giving of money or other help to those in need
Voluntary" being the key word. Government "giving" to charity actually prevents genuine charity by those from whom the money was taken by both force and (in this case) fraud.
Statists may believe government aid expresses the charitable instincts of all of us but it really only expresses the corrupt desire of those in power to buy support with other peoples' money. Worst of all it expresses the great lie at the heart of state corruption of civil society; that government is both more benign and more wise than the people and knows better than those who earned it how their money should be spent. Please review your charitable giving and cancel any donations to charities receiving taxpayers' money. Give instead to the many wonderful genuine organisations, such as the RNLI, that carry on the true work of charity.
STOP PRESS Devil's Kitchen (who coined the name "fake charities" and set up the Fake Charities website) has more (and better) on this subject.
One of the most amusing voices on the internet is that of The Bloggess. She is the antidote to gloomy bloggers like me. She makes me the gift of a smile almost every day and some days in the past year that's been quite an achievement. The link above is to her Christmas (and Hanukah) appeal. It's done her way but something tells me it will work. Last year she raised $40,000 'by accident', which is more than this blog has ever done on purpose, so she's made me the gift of humility too. I have donated to one of the suggested charities and I recommend that you do too. If you don't like the look of them, then don't be a grouch; choose your own. Just make sure it doesn't appear here, ok?
Bishop Hill has upset me this morning. I have had a standing order to the NSPCC for some years. I was unaware that it was taking £14 million of government money and angry to find that it is supporting the government's current attacks on home schooling.
It's fine that Britain provides free-at-point-of-use state education for all. I have lots of issues with how it delivers that, but that's an issue for another day. There is no way, however, that state education should be compulsory. If I had not been lucky enough to afford private education for my children, my wife and I might well have preferred home schooling to a state system we knew well as ex-pupils and, in her case, as an ex-teacher. The government's campaign against home schooling has been disgusting - even implying that some home schoolers are doing it only to conceal their child abuse. The NSPCC's support for that campaign has nothing to do with its charitable purposes and - I suspect - everything to do with its status as a government front.
A charity that takes government money is not worthy of the name. Charity is all about voluntary contributions. Tax is, by definition, an involuntary contribution. Had the taxpayers wanted to give that £14 million to the NSPCC, they could have done so. They were not given the choice. Therefore nothing done with that money is truly "charity."
More insidiously fake charities, among which I am disappointed to suspect I must now number the NSPCC, are instruments of government policy and patronage. They are used to "astroturf" (create fake "grass roots" support for) government policies. They are used (through overpaid sinecure jobs) as a source of government party patronage. Many a Labour candidate in the next election wll boast of his or her work for charity, when in fact they were "parked" with that organisation by political influence.
I will cancel my monthly standing order to the NSPCC and write to explain why. My correspondence will no doubt be a waste of time. If the NSPCC's leadership is, as I now suspect, politically selected, the people concerned will know that full well. That one small donor has rumbled them is neither here nor there, in the context of £14 million extorted for them forcibly by their major sponsor in Whitehall.