Being useless at debate and anonymous in meetings, I have never been confident of making a difference in politics.
The only way I could ever have a measurable impact, I’ve concluded, was through direct action. Volunteering, charity work, anything where your efforts could have immediate impact.
The problem is, for unfathomable reasons I shall try to investigate, all these activities seemed to be under left wing control. Which means your efforts are diluted. Volunteer for Oxfam and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (according to stories I read on Order-Order) and your efforts are diverted into the cause of getting Ed Miliband elected.
Somehow the Left has monopolised the milk of human kindness and hoisted the red flag on good intentions. Which would be okay if every £25 raised actually bought a goat for an African village. But there’s no way I’m giving my time and money to help put Ed Milliband on the national stage, which would turn us into a third world country.
Charity now seems to be a heist. The bien pensant gang exploits the distribution of benevolence more ruthlessly than Joe Pesci’s mob extorted money from the public in Goodfellas. Call them what you will – The Condescenti, The Poser Nostra, The Good Failures – they’ve got a stranglehold on good works.
The route into this racket typically starts with something small. A few years ago, when looking for some constructive way to contribute to public life, I saw a notice in my local library asking for a Big Buddy. The council’s children’s department wanted people to spend time mentoring kids who, for whatever reason, were having a rough time of things at home. Some were physically disadvantaged, some autistic, others had a tough childhood caring for their own disabled parents. Some were kids who were getting in trouble who needed someone to give them some sort of positive older role model.
All the Big Buddy volunteer had to do was take them out of their current situation and try to show them a good time. As an added bonus, we might offer them an example of how to behave. Which seems simple enough – especially since we’d be trained in how to help children.
But, we’d reckoned without the Condescenti. Our man from the council was a ‘made man’ with the Poser Nostra, and he was never going to let any acts of good faith take place without skimming a bit off the top.
So rather than just take poor Barry (not his real name) out for a break from stressful family life, I was asked to spy on his family and look for signs of strife that I could report back. It was almost as if they were desperate for evidence to break up the family. (I ignored this instruction as it would have been a betrayal of the kid’s confidence in me. I didn’t feel that a few months training qualified me to make such difficult judgments anyway.)
Soon, my choice entertainment was under scrutiny. The Children’s Capo had ordered that we take our charges to a Mosque as their Saturday treat. I ignored this order too, on the grounds that I’d hated church at Barry’s age. The poor kid was having a tedious religious service imposed on him as part of some ill-conceived diversity agenda. When he discovered I’d taken Barry to a kid’s comedy club in Soho instead, the Capo was not a happy man, and started accusing me of crimes against health and safety and the risk of legal action.
(It’s a good thing he never heard out about the canoe incident!)
Finally, things came to a head after I took Barry out swimming. Then compounded the crime by not making him eat salad afterwards. (We both had chips). This insubordination pushed the Capo over the top and he began insinuating that I could be accused of being a child molester. To push the message home, he then gave me a rather unnecessary public lecture warning me not to think about wearing speedos. (As if!)
The irony was the council abandoned the Buddy scheme abruptly. No explanation was given, although the Capo hinted darkly at the hidden hand of David Cameron and his newly mooted idea of Big Society. A year later, I read in the local paper that the head of children’s services (and indeed the council leader) had been charged with downloading indecent images of children onto his laptop. That, one would suspect, was the real reason why they pulled the plug on the voluntary scheme and all our training went to waste. Cameron’s cuts indeed!
A few years later, I trained to man a helpline for suicidal people. The story was much the same. I enjoyed the training and the actual work was straightforward enough. You’re specifically instructednot to give advice, but just to listen and sympathise. I could handle that, but I couldn’t handle the creepy invasiveness of the supervisor who, ironically, was a terrible listener and made snap judgements about all the callers. You got the impression that it was all about him, rather than listening to the callers.
Is it always like this in the voluntary sector? Has the Left colonised charity because conservatives don’t do good works? Anyone care to help?