On Monday, a startlingly large number of people got together to wander around the Alzheimer’s Society offices in London watching Sajid Javid, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, talk to a few people and then push a button.
The button, which in the event he would push with some ceremony, was to signify the launch of Charities Online, the new system that allows charities to make virtual Gift Aid claims.
The system itself, which probably ought to be viewed as nothing but a good idea for charities, has hit a bit of controversy because some in the sector say it’s been rushed into action in a tearing hurry and no one is quite ready. But the government is pleased, nonetheless. So Javid was there to press the button, to make the first claim and to signify that this new service was a good thing.
The walkabout seemed to happen because he was there anyway and he was a politician – wandering around glad-handing people and having a chat is what politicians like to do.
It’s remarkable how many people were needed to watch a politician wander around: the head of charities from HM Revenue & Customs; a couple of his staff who understood how Charities Online actually worked; the head of policy, director of fundraising and director of corporate resources from the Alzheimer’s Society; a couple of other Alzheimer’s Society staffers to help Javid find his way back and forth; a Treasury press officer; a couple of Javid’s own people; one guy to interview him later and another bloke to film it; a photographer to document it; and a lone Third Sector journalist to wander round at the back, entirely supernumerary – a reporter without portfolio.
At desks throughout the office, researchers and administrators looked up, vaguely confused, as a train of men in suits trailed past like a joyless conga. Once every couple of minutes, Javid’s guides would stop and introduce him to a staff member. Then 14 or 15 people would stand around and watch as he talked in low, serious tones about volunteer management, or research, or persuading businesses to commit to a call to action. About 450 businesses have committed to supporting the Alzheimer’s Society, it appears, including a small curry house in the west country. This is good because eating curry regularly is supposed to stave off dementia – the build-up of spices obviously has a cumin-lative effect.
After about half an hour of chat, though, we moved on to the purpose of the visit: the momentous first claim.
Sadly, submitting a Gift Aid claim online is not the most naturally dramatic of subjects, so this was just a pair of bald blokes sitting in a shadowy room, hunched over a computer keyboard, clicking on drop-down menus. Eventually, Javid extended a right honourable right index finger, clicked OK with his mouse and it was done.
Then, these things being what they are, he got back in front of the keyboard and pretended to press it again from several different angles for the benefit of the photographers.
Important work done, he found time to shake a few more hands, said he was really happy to have met a lot of people, got in his ministerial Peugeot 308 and was driven off towards the sunset – well, towards the A1202, at least.