Editorial: Not whingeing but dissenting

It was a high-risk move when Nick Hurd chose to brand the sector 'whingers' at a round-table meeting with small charities last week, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

Whingeing. It's an emotive word, with connotations of spinelessness, self-pity and a tendency to blame everything on others. Given the choice, no one wants to be dubbed a whinger.

So it was a high-risk move when the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, chose to use this word at a round-table meeting with small charities last week. He advised them not to join the queue of whingers and try to be part of the solution instead. And sure enough, our story about his remarks is getting maximum readership and attracting some heartfelt comments, few of them supportive of Hurd.

The minister also made it clear that he considered being part of the solution to be demonstrating an ability to help the government with problems it wanted to solve. This is fine as far as it goes: if government policies are compatible with a charity's purposes, the way is clear for it to endorse those policies and supply services - although it should sup with a long spoon.

But there's another way of looking at all this. 'Whingeing' is often just a pejorative word for the things you don't want to hear because they don't fit your agenda. Ministers are impatient with dissenters who obstruct their plans or want to draw attention to the problems governments don't want to solve. Hence the lobbying bill and the proposals to restrict judicial review. They want the awkward squad to shut up and knuckle under.

This is exactly what charities should not do. Their reasons for existing will often bring them into conflict with governments as they point out the deficiencies of policies and speak up for victims. If that means getting the cold shoulder, so be it: ultimately, the strength of charities derives from the long-term support they get from people and communities, not from those temporarily in political office.

So in this sense, charities should carry on whingeing. It's part of what they're for and they shouldn't apologise for it. They could drop the slightly shrill sense of entitlement that sometimes comes through, certainly. But otherwise, they should stick to their guns.

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