Opinion: Our good name is not for sale

Gordon Brown has long been fond of invoking a spirit of partnership between the third sector and government in delivering social justice in this country. Now Alan Milburn, another key figure in New Labour, is suggesting that charities should deliver NHS services.

Seven years on, the Government realises that top-down social projects just don't deliver quickly enough to please the electorate, and that piling in money and managers is not having the desired effect of creating recognisably different public services. To turn this situation around, what they now want is our expertise, our experience of developing effective initiatives and our knowledge of the grass roots in this country. All are qualities that seem rare in the corridors of Whitehall.

But what Mr Milburn et al want most of all with their wooing of the third sector is our moral authority. As appalling photograph after appalling photograph comes out of Iraq's prisons, this is a government that is running on empty when it comes to moral authority. There's the questionable war, the one-sided relationship with a dangerous American President, the spectacle of senior ministers wriggling away at the dispatch box rather than telling the truth.

If you've ever listened to Mr Blair's rhetoric, it places the highest premium on the moral case. That was the basis for the war in Iraq. That, most of all, is why we should trust him. He was busy quoting St Francis of Assisi the other week. Yet, here we are, seven years on from the glorious sunny day in May 1997 when the moral case appeared to have won out, and there is not so much as a moral fig leaf left for the Blair government to hide behind any more.

I don't believe he is an immoral man, or a cynical one. But he has got it wrong and wrong and wrong again, so now he wants the third sector not only to show him how to get it right - and quickly - but he also wants us to mortgage our good name to bolster his. With such motives there can only be one answer - no.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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