Minister tells charities to knit-off
A newly appointed minister has told charities who ‘stray into the realm of politics’ to ‘stick to their knitting’. Elizabeth Bagwell argues that you can do both.
Sometimes it feels like we only hear about new ministers when they say something people think is stupid. Brooks Newmark, the new minister for civil society got off to a flying start as his opening speech has already been branded ‘patronising rubbish’, according to reports in several newspapers, including The Guardian.
The main issue is what you think charities should do. Newmark says: “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics. Some 99.9% do exactly that. When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money.” He added: “The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others.”
This would probably surprise charities like Greenpeace and Amnesty International that are committed to helping people by bringing about political changes, both small and large. It’s also a major issue for charities helping people struggle in the face of institutional problems: Shelter, Age UK and other charities will all be able to help people by lobbying for changes to how we house vulnerable and elderly people, for example.
But while these arguments have been made before, I don’t think anyone has explained to Newmark how much variety there is in the knitting world these days. ‘Stick to your knitting’ and you might well be hidden in a dark room making dishclothes – but you might also be creating a knitted river to campaign for clean drinking water, knitting a protest banner for a peace demo or staging an environmental protest.
When someone says ‘stick to your knitting’ it’s often dismissive, suggesting that you should go home, focus on what you know best, and not meddle in their important business. If only Newmark knew there’s so much more to it than that, he might just want to ban charities from knitting, as well as politics!
Last updated: September 9th, 2014.