Government 'co-opting' voluntary sector's ideas

The Government is taking over the ideas of the voluntary sector for its own purposes, according to Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO.

His comments were made in a talk on campaigning at an event organised by the Centre for Charity Effectiveness in London last week. Etherington said: "The current Government is a sophisticated ringmaster in the big tent, proving itself adept at co-opting language, ideas and people - as demonstrated by Tony Blair wearing a Make Poverty History wristband while, behind the scenes, recruiting Oxfam's policy director as a special adviser."

He added that the sector's increasing reliance on statutory funding could further compromise its independence.

"With close to 40 per cent of voluntary sector income now statutory, the space between being sidelined as oppositional and being co-opted into prisoner-insider status is an increasingly uneasy one," he said.

Etherington predicted that traditional methods of campaigning would become increasingly ineffective and questioned whether high-profile demonstrations such as the Countryside Alliance march had any real effect.

He said: "A public rally may work as background noise, in that it can help make the political environment more receptive to a particular campaigning aim, but it is a mistake to conflate demonstrating and campaigning."

Etherington also argued that it was not enough for NGOs to try to make the moral case and claimed that too many regarded "media attention as success, rather than as a means to a political end".

He added that too many campaigns were hindered by the nature of the relations between campaigners and fundraisers, which he claimed "still tend to be characterised by mistrust".

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