Posts By: Stephen Cook

London Marathon needs a human face

Many Third Sector readers will be familiar with the terrain covered by the Dispatches programme on the London Marathon at the weekend: the intense feelings of unfairness among some charities about the Gold Bond system of allocating places for runners; the deep reluctance of the marathon’s leaders to talk openly about its organisation and finances; and their hostile response to any kind of questioning or criticism.

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Another scalp for Joanna Lumley

It might well be that some former Gurkhas have exercised their right to come to Britain and arrived with unrealistic expectations about housing and subsistence; it might well be that, in Nepal, unscrupulous fixers and middlemen have been exploiting the credulity of some former soldiers. These are all matters that need to be examined and addressed.

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The mauling of Dame Suzi Leather

Dame Suzi Leather’s membership of the Labour Party has never been a disqualification for her to be chair of the Charity Commission. But it has created an opening for the piranhas of the Daily Mail and other right wing organs to sink their teeth into her. They have attacked her on a political level, suggesting that she has been put there by the Government to destroy public schools, and on a personal level, for her background and the kind of person she is. Quentin Letts of the Mail, for example, included her in his list of ‘fifty people who wrecked Britain.’ The political attacks were so wide of the mark as to be laughable, while Letts was nastily entertaining in his socially regressive public schoolboy style.

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The bullying row and the human factor

There are three aspects to the Gordon Brown bullying row – the political one, the charity one and the one where these two meet. The political aspect attracts most attention, and in it there’s more heat than light – witness the splendid shouting match between journalist Andrew Rawnsley and former deputy prime minister John Prescott on Newsnight last night.

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We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…how about you, you, you?

A woman of principle, or a bit of a crank?

The question relates to Angela Smith, Minister for the Third Sector, who has made it clear that she’s not prepared to attend an event at London Zoo because she’s a strong supporter of animal rights and a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society.

That means she won’t be at next Monday’s annual meeting on the Compact, which is an important occasion in the continuing development of the agreement that regulates sector-government relations. The venue was fixed last September, but officials weren’t then aware of the minister’s scruples.

In one sense it’s all very convenient for her – she won’t have to face the music for her flagrant and admitted breach of the Compact last November, when she scrapped  the £750,000 Campaigning Research Programme and withdraw grants to 32 small organisations at short notice.

Her colleague Dawn Butler, minister for young citizens and youth engagement, will go to the meeting instead and deal with the inevitable criticism of the decision, which has still not been convincingly explained.

But Smith’s track record suggests that she’s not just using animal rights as an excuse. She worked for the League Against Cruel Sports for 12 years before she became an MP, and there’s nothing in her political record to suggest she’s unable to tough out an unpopular decision.

Her position on the zoo will seem eccentric and self-indulgent to some. One can just imagine her officials, who have of course loyally taken the rap in public for the mix-up, raising their eyes silently to heaven as they close her office door behind them.

But I suspect she will gain a lot of respect in the sector over this episode. It makes a refreshing contrast to the trimming, expediency and cynicism we’ve become used to in our politicians. And zoos are strange and sad places, whatever you say about their role in education and conservation.

And what if she had gone? The way would have been open for the animal rights lobby to point out her patronage of the society, and then she would have stood accused of hypocrisy – which is arguably the worst sin of the lot.

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Has Gift Aid reform come any closer?

Some experts on giving and philanthropy have been wary about the idea of redirecting to charities the tax rebate that can be claimed by higher-rate taxpayers on Gift Aided donations. Such a move might have unpredictable effects on giving by the rich, they warn – especially in a continuing recession with a new 50 per cent tax rate looming for those earning more than £150,000.

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Full marks for Pell & Bales

There was a bit of lull in the rugby between England and Argentina – in fact, the whole thing was a bit of a lull – so I didn’t object too much to taking a call from a charity on a Saturday afternoon. And when the young woman said she was calling from “P&B on behalf of Save the Children”, the antennae twitched a bit: this must be none other than Pell & Bales, who have been on the naughty step a bit recently. Allegations of inappropriate remarks to cancer sufferers, ‘admin’ calls to people who don’t want to be called – you’ve probably read about it in the press. So I listened intently.

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