Charity begins at David Miliband

This posting has nothing whatever to do with making speeches. I’ve begun a new category. I call it ‘rant’. It’s for weekends and occasions when I feel like writing, but not about my work.

About forty years ago I found myself one Sunday noon in a small town in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland, propping up a bar and drinking Guinness in the genial company of the local Roman Catholic priest and the local Church of Ireland minister. I learnt that this was a weekly routine for them a few minutes after their respective Sunday services. Because it was at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I commented on how more of the world should see the two of them supping so amiably. At that point the conversation became a little more serious, as we discussed the horrors being perpetrated. One revelation in particular appalled me.  They told me that all over the republic there were good and worthy charities – orphanages, women’s sanctuaries, etc. – feeling a financial draught because people had become reluctant to put money in collection boxes lest it end up buying arms for either of the warring factions over the border.

I reminded myself of that when I became aware of my knee-jerk reaction to the news that David Miliband was to leave the British Parliament to take up a post as President of an international charity. It was as if I’d read that he’d been appointed to a senior post in the Mafia. Charities in general – at least, big international charities – have sunk so far in my estimation that I find I never put money in their collection boxes these days. Small local charities, yes, but the big boys (with one exception) never. In fact there is a point that they cease to be a charity at all and become instead an NGO – funded involuntarily by the taxpayer. And that alone is a very dubious status, as it raises all sorts of questions concerning their motivation.

I call them big boys advisedly.  The salaries paid to the senior executives of, and the budgets commanded by, the likes of WWF or Greenpeace are comparable with FTSE 100 companies or huge global corporations – in fact they are huge global corporations. The only difference is their tax status.

They scarcely have a tax status except as beneficiaries. Recently the press, twittering classes, and even the British Parliament became mightily exercised over a few international corporations arranging their tax affairs in such a way as quite legally to massage their accounts towards low-tax countries to minimise their tax bill. What about the huge, international charities that pay no tax at all – anywhere?

In theory this is because of the wonderful work they do on behalf of humanity at large. How do you spell a hollow laugh? They seem in many cases to have become a cuddly front for questionable political movements.

Greenpeace’s own founder has gone on the record to the effect that the organisation has completely lost its way. I have not seen a collection box for Greenpeace in ages! How do they fund Rainbow Warrior? It must take a shipload of widows’ mites.

WWF seems more concerned with making gazillions out of carbon credits than conserving wildlife. I have no doubt that they actually do also sponsor conservation projects, but then so does tax-paying BP. When WWF conspicuously jumps into bed with Coca Cola to raise money to ‘save polar bears’ whose world population is five times what it was when WWF was founded, you find yourself wondering what they plan to do with the money.

Somewhere I read, with alarming lack of surprise, that when RSPB reversed their opposition to wind farms, it coincided closely with a huge donation from the renewable energy industry.

The RSPCA‘s administration was apparently hijacked a few years ago, and now they seem closely to resemble some of the less reputable animal activist organisations.

And so it goes on: mainly rumour, and possibly erroneous. You may notice that I have not cited sources nor included wads of statistics. This is partly because I am too lazy but more because my point is not fact-based, but rumour-fed. You may call it tittle-tattle if you like. I consider myself one who keeps himself tolerably well-informed, and here I am merely stating an impression that has crept up on me. What if all the implications concerning these charities are wrong? Then their massively remunerated chief executives should be summarily sacked for piss-poor public relations and allowing their brand to be contaminated. 

David Miliband is going to run International Rescue Committee in New York. I’ve looked at IRC’s website and on the face of it they do wonderful work. I hope that is true, and at this moment certainly I have no reason to doubt it.

But though their website invites me to do so, I shall not become a donor. I prefer to support the hospice and other local causes, The only famous charity that I continue to support, indeed I dropped money into a collection box in the market place of my local town this very morning, is one that does wonderful work and I’ve never heard a whisper against them.

Step forward the Salvation Army.

1 thought on “Charity begins at David Miliband

  1. There was a time when I supported WWF, because they seemed to be all about making sure tigers and rhinos didn’t go extinct (even had a sticker for my car window at one point.) Now, as you say, they seem as shadowy and octopus-like as some of the mega-corporations they claim to criticise. Currently I support the RSPCA, but if I became disillusioned with them, would probably switch to Battersea Dogs Home or, as you’ve done, to the Salvation Army or a local charity.

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