Society Diary: When a charity inspires a new political movement

22 Feb 2019 Voices

Merry Friday, dear readers! Society Diary thinks it is time to #ChangeCharitySatire and so is saddened to announce it is quitting Civil Society Media to form an Independent Group. However, Diary has no idea what that change actually looks like yet, so it will continue to sit on the CSM website for the foreseeable future.

Centrist mag

First off, a tenuous charity angle to this week’s episode of The Slow Decline of British Democracy. As you will have seen, Labour and Conservative remainers have finally had enough of their own parties' Brexit policies and quit to form, well, not a new party, but a sort of group/company/squash club. Journalists across media channels, many of whom share the group’s disaffection with mainstream party politics, have expressed great excitement at this diet version of the SDP. But there is just one problem: what do the Independent Group actually stand for?

One banter suggestion came from hot young communist Aaron Bastani, who drew mockery from this column previously when he had a go at the Royal British Legion. Bastani listed being “pro-Which? Magazine”, as one of the Independent Group’s possible policies in a tweet which also included less light-hearted suggestions “pro fracking” and “pro foreign wars for literally no reason”. Which? is of course run by £100m charity the Consumers’ Association.

The source of the patter is a post-2015 election interview in which Independent Group member Chris Leslie said that Labour lost that year because it did not understand “the Which? magazine strata of society”. So quite a niche reference from Bastani there. Nevertheless, he, and possibly the charity, would be delighted with the reaction to the tweet as titles including GQ and the Spectator have since used the Which? Magazine gag as a springboard to write political sketches.

The Spectator’s column is titled: “Corbyn’s cheerleaders are wrong to sneer at Which? Magazine”, at least a paragraph of which is in impassioned praise of the charity. Diary is impressed by this incredibly slick bit of work by Which?’s PR team. They sent Chris Leslie a copy of their magazine in 2015 knowing full well that it would eventually play a key part in the formation of a new centrist party launched four years hence. Other charities should take note. Get an Independent Group member to endorse you while they’re hot and you’ll be inadvertently advertised by left and right wing commentators as they debate your worthiness for days.

Condolences, PETA style

After fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died this week, news stories and condolences flooded the internet. But it was an unorthodox response from a leading charity that really grabbed Diary’s attention.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) decided to use the death of the 85 year old designer to plug their anti-fur campaign.

Paying their, err, well not respects, on Twitter, the animal rights charity weighed in and said: “Karl Lagerfeld has gone, and his passing marks the end of an era when fur and exotic skins were seen as covetable. PETA sends condolences to our old nemesis's loved ones.”

While respecting the communications team's unwavering ability to stay on message, as far as obituaries go, Diary’s seen better.

And it seems the national and international press agrees, with articles in the Daily Mail, People Magazine and more drawing reader’s attention to the backlash PETA received.

In a hatchet job of damage limitations, PETA replied to its tweet saying that its president, Ingrid Newkirk, had said: “Grief, with which we are all familiar, is real, so PETA’s condolences to anyone who has loved and lost someone are genuine, regardless of the deceased’s position on fur.”

How generous. 

Thanks DfID, oh wait

Diary was delighted and a bit surprised to receive an email from the (still not abolished at the time of going to press) Department for International Development, offering a report titled What is Civil Society, its role and value in 2018

While we always knew that politicians across government found Civil Society News vital to keeping up-to-date with the goings on in the charity sector, that one department had put so much time into assessing our value was well quite flattering. 

But wait, this was not about us, but about civil society as a whole. Nevertheless, Diary guesses it is a good thing that on the 20 February 2019, the department has worked out what civil society's value was last year. Presumably we’ll have to wait a year to discover what the role and value of civil society is now.

Readers may recall that the Department for Digital, Media and Sport came up with a definition of civil society earlier this year, which at first glance seems ever so slightly different to the definition given by DfID. 

Still at least government is thinking about the sector.

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