We walk along the Pennine Way, the loveliest walk we have completed since we mastered the pilgrims way connecting Winchester and Salisbury. On the way we saw a beautiful flock of grey very tough”Herdwick” sheep who come from the Lake District. The shepherd, a jolly man, Sam Sawyer, tells us that they will all have to be moved to cater for a scheme to hide electricity pylons. It all sounded very odd to us.
I caught the train at Glossop, a nice little place; pity about the station. The ticket machine was broken, the tickets sales people were on strike, the lavatories were all firmly locked and I was told by a man who looked rather desperate that no one knew where the key was. To cap it all, it was pouring with rain and a bitter wind stripped the flesh from my bones with great efficiency and then returned for the marrow. True that the weather wasn’t the fault of the railway network but it neatly added to my gloom and made me wonder why we choose. to live out our dreary little lives at the bottom of an UK well.
For guaranteeing sleepless nights, The Data Protection Act is in a class of its own. Extraordinary as it may seem, members of the public have won the right in law not to be contacted by charities outlining in graphic detail the effects of, say, starvation in Chad, a tsunami in Thailand, modern slavery or universal child abuse. If these citizens feel so strongly about it, why can’t they just bin the offending solicitations? No, they need a law to stop such unpleasantness crossing their doorstep in the first place.
No one has ever carefully explained to me why this law is necessary, or how it is that the USA gets on just fine without such regulation – but there it is. I would argue that instead of protection from solicitation, it would do the British public far more good if there were a “Legally Obliged to Read About Third-World Poverty And Other Disasters Six Times A Week Act”. Why not? After all, we are living in the UK. We are rich, fat and selfish (apart from ZANE donors, who are wonderful), and should be daily forced to read charity solicitations reminding us that most people living on this planet just aren’t so darn lucky as we are. For example, slow, silent starvation is a painful and rather miserable process. And being caught in the middle of a civil war is ghastly. No one in the UK should be permitted to turn a blind eye to such miseries, their insularity underpinned by statute.
Each time I go to Zimbabwe, I am reminded that its people have no state benefits of any kind and no public healthcare worth a damn: nothing at all. If you are ill and broke, you suffer, and then you die slowly or quickly. Bad luck, period.
When I get back to the UK, I am struck by how the political parties, especially during an election, are always trying to tell us just how much they love the NHS – and so much more than any other party. It’s childish. We know the public loves the NHS because “focus groups” tell us that in a society without God, the NHS has taken his (or her) place. And the NHS is only the start of it. My Zimbabwean friends who come to the UK tell me they are simply overwhelmed by the wealth of the houses, the profusion of goods in the shops, the fancy clothes people ponce about in (actually I think most of our fellow citizens look like temporary shelf stackers in Aldi, but let that pass), the unbelievable choice of the food stacked high in the stores, the very odour of wealth that hangs everywhere like a pall, and the overarching sense of safety and entitlement. One told me that a vast sign seems to hang over the UK: “Bad luck, Johnny Foreigner and other losers: the UK has won first prize in the lottery of life. We feel your pain, now go and get stuffed!”
Amidst this cornucopia of wealth and the blizzard of trashy entertainment that fills our lives, ZANE tries to raise a bit of money to alleviate the misery and poverty in Zimbabwe.
ZANE gets no official help: in fact, quite the reverse. I reckon that today it is more or less impossible to start a charity and obey all the rules that appear stacked against any charitable entrepreneur, and that’s just the start. For over a third of our administrative meetings each week, we are obliged to spend valuable time dealing with the rules, laws and codes that are designed to regulate – and in reality, make it far harder – to raise money from the British public. We have to deal with the “Fundraising Regulator”, the “Risk Register”, the “Annual Complaints Register”, and then our old friend “The Data Protection Act” – and on it goes. Of course, the rules are written by people – civil servants and MPs – who have probably never started a charity or tried to fundraise in their lives.
As a polite, well-ordered and law-abiding charity, we strive to obey these rules in spirit as well as letter. Of course, most of these regulations will never materially alter the behaviour of the real rogues who will just ignore them and laugh. Rules are a growth industry. As good manners, morality and trust decline, rules and regulations sprout everywhere to fill the vacuum. But knee-jerk reactions from our lawmakers – reacting to media pressure and high-profile cases like the very avoidable and absurd Kid’s Company collapse – have made life difficult for decent, law-abiding outfits like ZANE. Big charities of course have rooms filled with box tickers, but small charities like ZANE just have to manage it all with as good a grace and as much gallows humour as we can muster.
Freedom of Thought
Sad that no one who is a serious Christian with conventional views can hold a senior office in any political party. Your views will be analysed and you will be under attack; if your opinions fall short of what the liberal consensus thinks is “right”, you will be mocked, then destroyed.
I have no idea what ZANE donors believe or do not believe, but whatever your views, if they are not acceptable you will be deemed to be thick and bigoted.
Today we all have to more or less think the same thing. In particular we can’t be “pro-life” or against gay marriage. We all have to believe that there is no moral distinction between heterosexual and homosexual activity.
We have all forgotten what it means to be liberal in the best sense of the word: that is open-minded and generous to the views of others.