Little at Large

We shall never surrender - but first we'll use the Coutts loo

All government ministers are now, apparently, given a 'narrative' by the spinmeisters at Number 10 - a kind of story to frame policy for the public. The current one is to drum home how absolutely terrifying and grim the economic situation is so you won't want to get rid of Gordon. Children secretary Ed Balls' recent "worst crisis for 100 years" speech was in this vein.

But some ministers seem to have embraced the theme rather too zealously. In a press release about the third sector action plan last week, Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne was positively Churchillian. "Britain can beat this downturn," he said. "Like we've beaten everything else the world has thrown at us in the decades gone by. But we'll win by pulling together, not by facing the storm alone."

All this to introduce a modest £40m package for the sector. Interestingly, Byrne didn't make it to the launch briefing. Third sector minister Kevin Brennan wasn't exactly facing a storm - this was the polite part of Fleet Street - but he was definitely the lone politician in the room.

Some parts of the sector are exhibiting signs of the Blitz spirit. Alistair McLean, the new chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, recently soldiered through the snow to the office for his first day in the job. Unfortunately, no one else at the FRSB made it, so he was locked out and had to go home. On the way back to north Essex, he got stuck on the M11.

I recently quoted Greenpeace director John Sauven confessing to being a client of Coutts, bank of choice for the rich and famous. It turns out he was only adopting a persona to write The Big Issue's King for a Day. "Sadly, I'm poorly paid, as chief executives go," he says. "The only thing I've done at Coutts is to have a piss in their toilet, which is open to the public opposite Charing Cross station."

The Tory charity people are at it again. First Francis Maude was getting aerated about the price of teddy bears in the Downing Street gift shop. Now Nick Hurd is grilling ministers about logos on the Insolvency Service's branded clocks and pens. Perhaps they need some of Liam Byrne's Churchill rhetoric.

- Mathew Little is a freelance writer mathew.little@haymarket.com

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