Election '05: Little at large - Mathew Little's election diary

Although the election campaign for political parties is an orgy of exaggeration, misrepresentation and subtle tweaking of the darker recesses of the public mind, for charities it is a period of enforced restraint.

Under the matronly gaze of the Charity Commission, charities must be models of impartiality. Many prefer to hunker down and keep a low profile.

Not that some aren't trying manfully to get voluntary sector issues on the agenda. The NCVO's election guide for charities, for example, suggests charities turn up at party hustings and ask questions such as "What steps would your party take to ensure that the Compact is strengthened both at a national and local level?"

I appreciate the sentiment, but the effect could be to seriously undermine attempts to reinforce the public's fragile interest in the political process.

No, this won't be the charity election. The phrase "it's the voluntary sector, stupid" will never pass the lips of some grizzled spin doctor.

"It's the stupid voluntary sector" just might, however, given charities' willingness to be exploited by politicians eager to claim credit for social good they have played no part in bringing about.

I'm convinced that voluntary organisations hold a deep and irresistible psychological attraction for politicians. First, they're a social sticking plaster, holding society together in a way state and market can't. Second, they're incredibly cheap. Third, and most delightfully, if they go belly up, politicians aren't responsible and can lecture the sector about how governance standards aren't up to scratch. A politician eulogising over civil society might as well be praising sunshine. In fact, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock did once suggest that there was more sun under Labour governments than Tory ones.

Shouldn't we be demanding something back for all this reflected glory?

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