Debra Allcock Tyler: The ‘insider approach’ to government is not working

When it becomes obvious that the normal rules of influencing are failing, speaking truth to power must take priority

When my brother was little and did something naughty, like most kids, he would fib to my mum to get out of trouble. 

But he had a tell: he would cover his forehead with his hand when lying. He could never understand how she always knew! 

The clever woman told him that every time he lied a big green spot appeared in the middle of his forehead.

Perhaps that’s one reason he didn’t grow up to be a politician. 

I am not cynical about politicians, actually. My long experience is that most want to do a good job, and do it well for our citizens and our country.  

Of course, there are some who appear to be more concerned with power and status than change and commitment to do good – until now, I would still have argued the latter were the minority. Lately I’m not so sure.

The sector has essentially had two key, different but arguably complementary, approaches to politicians, especially those who wield power in government. 

One – to influence them to make better policy decisions. Two – speak truth to power – and do so publicly, so that others can hear and be inspired to speak their own truths.  

However, sometimes these two approaches conflict. The insider influencers (understandably) argue that if we publicly tell the government off, we’ll piss them off and risk losing any ability to influence.

I hear that, but so far this insider approach doesn’t seem to be working with this government – at all.

No matter how many meetings we attend, how much data we share, how many papers we submit, they don’t seem to either understand the trouble charities are in, or, indeed, care! 

We told them charities would cut services and make redundancies – they did not believe us.  

We told them we were about to lose £4.3bn and urgently needed emergency funding – they provided £750m, and then told us off for not being grateful enough for it. 

We told them this money needed to get out quickly, yet much of it still has not been dispersed. 

We told them this was about vital and #NeverMoreNeeded services being lost: blood donations, cancer research, dementia care, domestic violence services, support for young people – no eyelids were batted.

When it becomes obvious that the normal rules of influencing are not working, then it seems to me that openly speaking truth to power must take priority.  

What we do and say now goes down in history as a matter of public record. When we challenge publicly, we demonstrate to all of our stakeholders and observers that we are not colluding; we are holding the government to account, even if they are not listening.  

Yes, we might offend someone currently in power - but political power is a slippery thing and is easily lost.  And in any event, recent experience shows that if we get the public on side, this particular brand of politicians very quickly change their minds.  

The good ones will understand and value our honesty. The bad ‘uns? Well, we wouldn’t have won them over anyway. Perhaps it’s time to point out the green spots on their heads.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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