Last week The Rt. Hon Ed Miliband M.P. Minister of the Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told 650 people I smoked. My humiliation knows no bounds. Ed also said, he respected and trusted our sector he wanted government and the Third Sector to be partners in change and encouraged us to “bite the hand that feeds us”. Frankly all things considered I don’t care about that, the man told 650 of I hope my peers that I smoked.
Despite my ritual humiliation, the NCVO conference on Civil Society last week should be a major wake-up call for the Third Sector. The Conference gave me great hope for the future and a sense that if the Third Sector play our cards right, at last our sector will join the top table.
Ed Miliband’s keynote and Oliver Letwin’s closing speech at the NCVO conference left me in no doubt that the Labour and Conservative Parties view our sectors potential relationship with them quite differently.
As a Minister, Ed is a thoughtful, compelling and honest advocate for the Third Sector. The chap gets us. Mr Miliband spoke of The Government and the Third Sector being partners and not rivals, that our relationship should be founded on mutual respect and the challenges we will be facing concerning social justice. It seems to me that Ed is justifiably challenged by many of the most pressing social issues of this country and in intellectual and policy terms, is genuinely seeking to re-define the relationship Government has with our sector. Ed in my opinion is a big time supporter of devolved, grass roots interventions, putting it crudely a power to the people sort of guy. A Government of facilitators and of funders, working to encourage social change. But most importantly a Government charged with creating the political and policy catalysts that will tackle so many of our quintessentially 21st Century problems. Social Change by citizens for citizens sort of thing.
Being frank, Oliver Letwin also seems to mean business. The Conservatives are searching for a new philosophical framework to build what they consider a new social consensus. Three times over the last month I have heard senior Tories talk about Edmond Burke. David Cameron told a room full of journalists two weeks ago that he “travels back to Burke” when searching for the politics of social change. Some may consider this the same old same old from the Tories, Burke being the Father of Modern Conservatism and all that. The Conservatives however are thinking big, their social consensus agenda will go big on personal liberty and will I should imagine focus on the tyranny of the “brutal mob” (those that are perceived to be perpetrating anti-social behaviour) and how the a Tory government and its authority / authorities can turn back the tide.
These are two very different views of the world; one of these views will dominate the next 10 years of the Third Sectors existence. We do have a trump card though as I hope very senior politicians such as Ed Miliband and Letwin understand that without the Third Sector the social fabric of this nation would disintegrate. It would leave The Government, any Government bewildered and pretty much impotent. Knowing this to be true, what power our sector could wield if only we acted in unison.
Ed as you are writing the Labour manifestos for the next election and you turned up and so eloquently set out your stall, please expect a rush of expectation from the Sector and rightly so, for decades, indeed centuries, this sector has done what I heard one delegate call “our nation’s dirty work”. Toiled to carve out a good society, a civilised society, we are the backbone of this nation’s civil society.
To the Third Sector, we must set out our stall and that stall must be a united stall. On that note I am off for a cigarette!