Debra Allcock Tyler: We need to make politicians see that they ignore the sector at their peril

Those in power don't perceive people who work for charities as influential voters: this should change, writes our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler will be voting for a party which supports small charities
Debra Allcock Tyler will be voting for a party which supports small charities

My nephews were discussing how they would get girls later in life. Charlie, aged nine, said he and his mate would "have six-packs, big muscles and tattoos, and wear tight T-shirts so you can see the muscles, and blue jeans with drum sticks in our back pockets - and we'll probably hang around the street corner". Fred, seven, had a different approach. "First, I'm going to get drunk," he said.

This conversation reminded me that some people work hard for what they want, whereas others take the easier or more popular route. And this is absolutely the case in politics. It seems to me that if the media or the public don't get excited about an issue, then it's not high on the agenda of many politicians. Take the current floods: in Somerset the situation was ignored for weeks, if not months. Why? Not many voters in rural areas; but the Thames Valley region (where I live) gets flooded and suddenly there's lots of support - and money - flooding in (pardon the pun). Why? Perhaps it's because lots of voters - specifically Conservative ones - live in this region.

And so it is with the Directory of Social Change's Big Lottery Refund campaign, which calls for the £425m taken from the Big Lottery Fund to help pay for the Olympics to be returned. The politicians don't care because the media doesn't care and the public doesn't understand the lottery distribution system. If the headline had read "government grabs £425m from the NSPCC to pay for Olympic stadium", it would have been a different story.

Because that is in effect what happened - except that it came from 10,000 small charities, rather than one big one. But government and opposition parties don't care about small charities because they don't draw the headlines and therefore don't influence voters.

It all comes down to votes. If politicians don't perceive your vote as important, then they won't bother with you. I suspect that one of the reasons we lost our battle over the lobbying act is that those in power don't really believe we are influential voters. Well, we need to change that.

The law says that, as a charity, the DSC cannot tell you how to vote.

But I am perfectly within my rights as an individual, writing in this publication in a personal capacity, to tell you how I intend to vote. After all, being chief executive of the DSC is only my job. I vote as an individual and have the right to freedom of expression when I discuss my politics. What will the new law say about that, I wonder? Will I be arrested? Prosecuted? Sued, martyred, fined?

Well, bring it on! I will be voting for the party that works to build up Charlie's six-pack - a party that supports the things I care about, such as the freedom and independence of the voluntary sector, and that will give my beloved small charities their money back. In my capacity as a free citizen, I encourage you all to do the same.

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

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