The government’s stand-off with the National Trust (of which I am a life member) and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) over changes to planning rules threatens to embroil the Coalition in a protracted fight with two of the most respected charitable organisations in the country. What’s more, the government also has the less than enviable task of assuaging concerns voiced by a number of MPs from the governing benches, members who share the same discomfort as the charities in question. It was therefore a tactical error for the government immediately to accuse the National Trust and the CPRE of running a “smear campaign by Left-wingers.”
This matter is not one of partisanship. There is an ongoing concern in rural England that when it comes to planning and preserving the green belt, central government is all too willing to dismiss the concerns of local families and businesses in favour of developers. Thus, for those of us who repeatedly hear concerns from constituents, it’s quite refreshing to see that our country’s ‘Little Battalions’ are alive and well in the countryside.
It does, however, seem somewhat curious that the government would go on such a sharp offensive against these two charities over concerns that appear to be largely justified, but remain completely mute over the ongoing obfuscation and policy manipulation undertaken by charities and non-government organisations that receive considerable funding from the taxpayer.
Charity is a fine thing, and should be one of the hallmarks of a robust civil society. However some charities have largely become merely supine extensions of the state, or shown themselves willing to push a regulatory agenda for the right fee.
At both the national and European level, taxpayer funds are being used to push a radical green agenda promoted by organisations like WWF. These groups use these funds to lobby and engineer policies that are largely economically destructive to domestic and international economic development—especially in the developing world.
Just last month my esteemed colleague, Daniel Hannan MEP, revealed that Christian Aid, a charity supposed to be alleviating hunger and suffering across the world, was hassling him for donations to lobby against free trade deals. How fighting against open markets and greater opportunities for trade will help feed the developing world is beyond me.
Unfortunately, in Brussels, using charities to front the Commission’s often destructive policies is, alas, the norm.
According to a recent report by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the European Commission and the British government distributed “£10.1 million… to a range of environmental groups… in 2009-10.” The Commission has justified these gargantuan grants on the premise that they provide a “necessary balance in relation to the interests of other actors… including industry/business, trade unions and consumer groups,” despite evidence to the contrary that they actually increase political apathy among the public.
This is, of course, absurd.
Far from charities and NGOs competing in the marketplace of ideas and representing the interests of their members, many now operate at the whim of unelected bureaucrats seeking to further impinge upon the liberties of consumers across Europe. The Commission attempts to excuse this action by claiming that through doling out cash they are merely engaging with “civil society.” This is either a painful display of ignorance regarding the organic nature of civil society or a deeply pernicious attempt to mute potential opposition via the cheque book. Unfortunately it appears to be more the latter.
Any organisation that enjoys its charitable status should be out promoting its principles and asking the public for donations, rather than willingly offering up their services and impartiality as soon as government – or the European Commission – writes them a cheque.
Charities and NGOs play a crucial role in society through harnessing individual initiative through civil engagement. Their values and – fundamentally – their independence are a crucial ingredient to the well-being and civil discourse of Member States. Unfortunately, in the face of growing civil opposition to their politically-correct agenda – and without a hint of irony – the Commission uses taxpayers’ money to fight back and silence critics.
This has to stop. The sooner this government backs off their countryside critics and confronts taxpayer funded lobbying, the better.