Society Diary: Minister fails to keep within his brief. Or briefs.

03 Oct 2014 Voices

Our weekly round-up of outlandish and interesting information collected from the corners of the charity sector.

Our weekly round-up of outlandish and interesting information collected from the corners of the charity sector.

He couldn’t keep a grip on, er, office

Diary has previously avoided mentioning Brooks Newmark very much, because it seems harsh to kick someone when they’re down.

But there’s only so much you can restrain yourself before it becomes too much to bear, and it begins to feel like your heart may burst out of your chest. Or some other organ might burst out of some other place.

It’s safe to say that Newmark hasn’t covered himself in glory during his time in the voluntary sector. In fact, you could argue he hasn’t covered himself at all.

We thought he’d made a bit of a mistake with his comments that charities should avoid politics and stick to their knitting. But those comments, in comparison barely, um, moved the needle.

Anyway Newmark’s decision to reveal his Parliamentary member while wearing paisley pyjamas last week, following a sting by a particularly unscrupulous member of the fourth estate, had consequences for all sorts of people, but two groups were particularly affected.

Those charities who’d invited Newmark to speak at their fringe events at the Conservative Party Conference were suddenly left staring at the prospect of having their keynote speech delivered by an empty chair. But retailers of paisley pyjamas watched sales soar - apparently M&S sold out at the weekend.

There’s been general disapproval of the way the sting was conducted, though, enough that Diary wondered briefly whether he could have claimed his peccadilloes were his own affair, and fought for his job.

Stuck it out, as it were.

Okay, maybe not.

You won the phone lottery

Rob Wilson, the new minister for civil society, did his best at the Tory party conference, despite being in the role for less than the lifespan of a middle-aged mayfly by the time the conference started. He revealed, among other things, that he nearly hadn’t picked up the call from No 10 because he’d been watching Arsenal vs Spurs with his son.

He also implied that if he hadn’t picked up the phone that night, someone else might have got the job.

Diary suspects he was joking, or at least exaggerating. But it does raise suspicions about how carefully the government selects ministers. It’s not totally impossible that they just have a ring-round and the first guy to pick up gets the job.

It depends which bits you show

In a relatively unimportant bit of information, the Mirror reported a couple of years ago that Wilson set up and recently sold a substantial share in a mobile phone content firm that sold pictures of topless women, as part of a deal with Stringfellows.

Diary was briefly inclined to come over all prurient about this, before reflecting that most charity investors probably also own shares in companies which distribute pictures of topless women, so perhaps we shouldn’t cast the first stone.

Still, it is ironic. One senior Tory distributes pictures of naked flesh via social media and makes a profit. Another does the same and loses out.

More tea, vicar?

Sticking with the party politics theme of this week’s Diary, we move on to the conference contribution of Sir Stephen Bubb, doyen of charity chief executives and deliverer of some of the most rambling introductory speeches known to man.

Bubb hit his stride early at the launch of The Blue Book of the Voluntary Sector, a collection of essays about the sector by Conservative MPs, published by both his own organisation, charity leaders body Acevo, and another organisation of apparently uncertain name.

“It was the harvest festival in the village of Charlbury, where I live,” he announced. “I said to my local MP that he must be sorry to miss it because he had to be here at the conference. My local MP in South Oxfordshire is, of course, David Cameron.”

Clang. The sound of a dropped name echoed round the room.

“The lesson of harvest festival is about helping the poor,” Bubb went on. “But it’s also about righteousness.”

The assembled audience of charity chief executives and other bigwigs stared at each other in mystification. What had happened to Bubb since last week? Was he in training to become a vicar? Did he think he was addressing a meeting of the WI? Were we about to start hearing about how to make jam?

No, he was coming back to charity.

Apparently the Bible, or at least a badly-dressed man holding a placard, who may or may not have been at the harvest festival (Diary was struggling to keep up at this point) said that righteousness exalteth a nation, and charities were about righteousness, and therefore they exalteth the nation, and therefore the Tories should stop telling them to shut up, and give them some cash.

Diary agrees with the final sentiment, certainly, but has one or two questions about the train of logic which led us to it.

“And now,” finished Bubb. “Let me introduce my colleague John Low, from the Charity Aids Foundation, our co-sponsors of this event.”

Low bounced to his feet. “I’m not sure that’s quite right, Stephen,” he said. “We’re the Charities Aid Foundation. I think the Charity Aids Foundation might do something a bit different.”


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