Editorial: Cameron pitches for the voluntary voters

Stephen Cook, editor

Two weeks ago, David Davis promised to revolutionise the role of the voluntary sector if he wins the Conservative leadership contest and eventually comes to power. Last week, his rival David Cameron used the Hinton memorial lecture to make his pitch on the same turf.

There were a few interesting if unlikely proposals, such as social action zones, in which there would be lighter regulation for the sector. But he also made an intriguing assertion that succeeded in both repudiating Thatcherism - thus putting himself in the centre ground - and differentiating himself from New Labour, which in many ways has taken over that ground.

"There is such a thing as society," he said. "It's just not the same thing as the state." He linked this to a commitment to sharing responsibility, trusting people to do the right thing and empowering them to do it. It's a clever formulation, and it might strike a chord with people who've begun to feel that the Government has planted improbable new policies into every nook and cranny of society and is now making matters worse by pulling them up to see if they're growing.

More specifically on the voluntary sector, he committed himself to the things with which the present Government is making only slow progress - creating conditions for the sector to do more, creating a level playing field in competition for public service delivery and longer-term funding.

The difference was that he did it, as befits a former PR man, with a slightly more persuasive spin: "Our record is lousy; yours is great - so you should be in charge."

Lovely rhetoric, but we'd be unwise to take it too seriously at this stage of the game.

ChildLine's decision holds lessons for sector

It was a brave and responsible decision by ChildLine to approach the NSPCC. The amalgamation of the children's helpline with its larger and stronger cousin means the trustees will disperse and some senior staff will have to look elsewhere. But it's a decision that makes immediate sense from the point of view of beneficiaries and supporters - in fact, you might wonder why it didn't happen years ago. Is there a lesson in this for other organisations in crowded sectors? Diversity and competition can be beneficial, but charities need to make sure that egos and other common ailments don't get in the way of the most effective pursuit of the wider common mission.

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