Last year my beloved bulldog Mabel got a bit of a tummy upset and I wasn't able to bring her into work as usual. I planned to get home early but, for one reason or another, got held up. So I texted my neighbour Nicky, known to me as Nick (note the name), saying: "Darling – horribly held up at work. Mabel ill and sh***ing all over the floor. Would you mind popping in and letting her into the garden? Love you! xxx." The response was almost immediate: "I'd love to help, Debs, but I'm watching Spurs play tonight! Any other time no problem. ;-) Sorry. Nick Hurd x."
Aaaaaargh! You can imagine my utter mortification at realising that, instead of texting Nicky, I'd texted Nick – made worse by the fact that I was in effect asking the charities minister to clean up my dog's excretions! Fortunately, he was very good-humoured about it – especially when I texted back, tongue-in-cheek: "Can't you pop in on your way to the match?"
I wonder if our new minister, Brooks Newmark, is equally mortified by his appalling gaffe at a recent conference when he was quoted as saying that he wanted to keep charities out of politics – "it's not what they're about nor why people give them money" – and that they should be "sticking to the knitting". I suspect that, given the backlash he's experienced on Twitter and in the press, he might wish he hadn't said it. In Mr Newmark's defence, he later clarified that he meant party politics rather than campaigning per se, but nonetheless it's hard to avoid believing that he is only stating the view broadly held by many of his fellow Conservative MPs – so in that sense it's not exactly a shocker.
But I'm really glad he said what he said. I've been trawling around the country over the past few years, admonishing our sector for losing its fight, the fire in its belly, its anger, its power. I've been yelling at charities to get involved in politics – particularly local politics – because it is often poor policy and decision-making at that level that affects our local charities and beneficiaries most negatively. And if you don't step up for your beneficiaries, who will?
I'm not sure that my exhortations have galvanised much action. But my years of experience in our sector have taught me that all it takes to hurl charities into the melee of political debate is to be told they're not allowed to be there – especially if they're told this by a serving minister.
So publicly stated views such as this don't worry me at all. In fact, they give me hope, because I know that our sector cannot ever be shut up. Or, at least, it can only be shut up temporarily, and only because sometimes we forget what we're there for and lose our voices. You only have to follow the Twitter threads or follow me around the country to see the increasingly militant glare in our colleagues' eyes! With those remarks, Mr Newmark might have achieved more of what I've been advocating than all my lengthy speeches have in the past few years. I can probably retire now!
In fact, I'm so grateful I'm tempted to mis-text our new minister, thanking him for his own unfortunate output. LOL! ;-)
Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change