Profile: Bruce Kent

As the veteran political campaigner turns 80, he recalls his time as leader of CND and explains his contempt for charitable status

Bruce Kent
Bruce Kent

Bruce Kent has lost none of the radical conviction that has characterised his career. The activist, who is 80 this year, springs to life when asked about the role of charities today.

"There shouldn't be such a thing as charitable status," he says. "Becoming a charity means making a deal with the government not to raise tricky issues, in return for tax rebates."

Last month, Liberal Democrat charities spokeswoman Jenny Willott told Third Sector that political campaigning by charities was vital to the efficient working of politics. But Kent, who pounded the streets in dozens of demonstrations with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, thinks the ‘charity' label is a red herring.

"Charities deliberately avoid the real issues of justice that lie behind their activities," he says. "By doing so, they allow the problems to continue.

"Take war, for instance. Charities will deal with the victims of landmines, but none of the major charities have taken up militarism as an issue.

"Charitable status is used to make groups vulnerable and dependent on those that fund them. They should be challenging the status quo at every turn but they can't and won't, and this holds them back."

Kent's cynicism stems from his experience. He was general secretary and later chair of CND during the 1980s, and is one of Britain's best-known peace activists.

"The fact that CND wasn't a charity made us freer," he says. "Yes, we were financially insecure, but we didn't have to look over our shoulders. We could do what we wanted and had nobody to answer to.

"You can raise money and effect change by being an activist, without becoming a charity."

Kent worked as a Catholic priest for nearly 30 years before leaving the priesthood in 1987 to stand unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate.

Despite his religious convictions, he is cautiously impressed by the British Humanist Association's ‘atheist bus' advertising campaign: "I think it's great fun, but it's feeble. If I were an atheist, I wouldn't say 'probably'.

"They should make their point and be proud, and say it clearly. Yes, I believe in God, but I'm not offended by it at all. If you've got a point to make and money to spend on making your point, then do it."

If Kent expresses his views with conviction, it's likely to be the result of having defied authority - that of the church, and of government - throughout his life.

"The virtue behind charity is great," he says. "But when it's formalised and subject to legal structures, I start to doubt it. So I'm very questioning about giving to charities."

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus