Little at Large

Recession has brought us down to bear necessities

- While charities up and down the country shiver in the cold winds of recession, it's heartening to know that the sector's plight is foremost in the minds of our political representatives.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was toe-to-toe with charities minister Kevin Brennan in the Commons last Tuesday. He didn't let the chance slip, demanding to know "what the retail prices of (a) oven gloves, (b) aprons, (c) teddy bears, (d) photo frames and (e) fruit drops were in the Downing Street gift shop (i) before and (ii) after the reduction in the rate of value added tax to 15 per cent".

- It may yet prove a sublime political tactic, because the quest to find out the new price tag of Gladstone the Bear seems have rather disorientated Brennan. He appeared in The Guardian the next day to comment on an Office of the Third sector survey about the attitudes of voluntary organisations to England's local authorities. Only 16 per cent responded positively. But Brennan was upbeat. "This first survey gives everyone a sense of how well this partnership is working up and down the country," he said.

Twenty-four hours later, he was commenting in this magazine on the same research. "This survey gives us a starting point for change," he intoned, "allowing us to see where local public sector bodies have more to do." Did he get a chance to read it?

- As a title, Philanthro-capitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World and Why We Should Let Them doesn't really fit with the zeitgeist - unless you replace "save" with "wreck". The book was published in the same week that Lehman Brothers collapsed.

But as a Financial Times blogger has noted, co-author Matthew Bishop is undaunted. At Davos last week, he hosted a panel boasting such luminaries as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. But the title of the session was an admission things have moved on: From Philanthrocapitalism to Philanthrocrisis.

- Mathew Little is a freelance writer

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