OPINION: Small minds and big issues

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

What an odd sense of priorities we have. We worry more about the content of ads about child poverty than we do about child poverty itself.

Barnardo's 'silver spoons' campaign yielded the largest number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority this year for its graphic portrayal of the reality of some children's lives. But will these outraged correspondents make the same fuss about those blighted lives? All the evidence says no.

We have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is flawed in many ways, no doubt, but who, in his pre-budget statement earlier this month, gave the eradication of child poverty great emphasis. Did we applaud? No, we complained that he's taking too much tax to do it. Perhaps the real problem with the ads is that they make people feel uncomfortable. Don't rub our noses in a problem we'd rather pretend doesn't exist - or at least one that we don't want to pay to address.

It reminds me of a favourite Victoria Wood sketch. A couple has sex on the table of a crowded train. No one says a word. Only when they light a post-coital cigarette that there is a chorus of complaints in the no-smoking carriage.

There is a debate to be had about the effectiveness of shocking advertising for charities, and my instincts would tend towards the conservative, but it is the failure of so many to see the wood for the trees in this case that I find so depressing. There is still plenty of outrage, passion and determination to change things out there, but much of it is directed into issues that merely distract.

Here's a sad Christmas story I heard this week. The TV advertising watchdog has been inundated with complaints about the new Mr Kipling mince pie campaign that features a children's nativity play and a shepherd announcing "it's a girl". It is, according to some, blasphemous. As a believer, I'd say its funny, or at least inoffensive in a secular age. The real blasphemy is that good people are wasting their energy trying to take us back to the 19th century, rather than arguing for the better future contained in the message of the gospels.

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