Debra Allcock Tyler: Why should we work more closely with a government that patronises us?

By ignoring Lord Hodgson's review of the lobbying act, this government has shown how little it thinks of the charity sector, writes the chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

Over the summer I entered my puppy, Arthur, into a dog show. My partner Andy thought it was a terrible idea on the grounds that Arthur probably didn’t have entirely the right sort of temperament for competitive events.

It turned out to be an absolute disaster. Arthur wouldn't assume any of the poses, had to be dragged away from the other puppies, wouldn’t parade around the ring and kept trying to escape. The judge had a lovely view of his uniquely perky rear end wriggling under the fence, and not much else.

But my complete humiliation occurred when the judge felt the puppy's... ahem... "bits". Arthur, clearly outraged, assumed the demeanour of a pup who’d been rudely violated and emitted a horribly loud, blood-curdling growl.

We came last. The judge was so cross that we weren't even allowed to stand with the other puppies in the final line-up, not that Arthur would have stayed still anyway. As we trudged out of the show ring, heads hung in disgrace, I was forced to concede that Andy had been right.

I imagine Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts must be growling too after the recommendations of his in-depth review of the lobbying act were dismissed so peremptorily by the government. His proposals aren’t perfect, but in legislative terms he had just about managed to turn a mangy mutt into a potential blue-ribbon poodle, to the almost unanimous cheers of a rarely united sector.

It’s not the first time the government has asked for a review of its legislation only to ignore it. Its excuse this time is that, because of Brexit, there’s no room on the legislative agenda. Piffle. These are relatively straightforward recommendations that would help to simplify a convoluted system and make life easier for everybody.

It is true to say that, in practical terms, the lobbying act needn’t worry the vast majority of the sector at all. In fact, on my travels around the sector most folk haven’t even heard of it because so few of us fall within its scope. But that’s not the point – what this government’s absolute refusal to budge on it signals, very clearly, is that it persistently does not respect or fully understand our sector and the underlying principles of charitable endeavour.

Rob Wilson, the former Minister for Civil Society, said in the latest issue of Third Sector that we ought to work more closely with this government. For the life of me, I can’t see why. Time after time we’ve been patronised by it and our work has been belittled, criticised or ignored. What does this government actually have to offer us that makes it worth entering the ring? It doesn’t want to listen. It says there’s no money. It gets annoyed if we try to influence policy or legislation. It clearly prefers us muzzled, so what’s the point?

There will be no more dog shows for Arthur. He, quite rightly, doesn’t like being forced to conform or perform for the sake of a paltry ribbon. Similarly, our sector shouldn’t parade itself to please any government. Frankly, the prize isn’t worth it.

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

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