Policy, Government and the Voluntary Sector

Our sector is the last bastion of a democracy under threat

When we fight we can win, even if the chances at first seem hopeless.

At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Henry V of England led into battle an army of 6,000 soldiers outnumbered by a vastly superior French force.

I feel a bit like we’re in our own version of Agincourt.

The odds seem overwhelming because the public has been convinced that democracy is about two things: elections – if you lose you have to suck it up and shut up until your next chance to vote – and the idea that the will of the majority should ride roughshod over the needs of the minority. But both are profoundly wrong.

Democracy is also about debating, lobbying, campaigning, protesting, marching, organising, being a voice for the voiceless.

And it has never been more under threat than it is today. The government is trying to make it harder for people to exercise their democratic rights.

Both subtly, by, for example, restricting the rights of those they fund to challenge government policy, even if that policy is creating the very problem we’re trying to solve; to less subtle changes such as the Police and Crime Act limiting protest, or threats of new legislation to curb the democratic right of employees to withdraw their labour.

If democracy is anything it is the ability for all ordinary people, whether in the majority or minority, to make a case for, or even resist, change. Which is where we come in. Our sector (with trade unions, the courts and some media) are the last bastions of democracy when governments become over-mighty.

Civil society campaigns that resulted in change include: the abolition of slavery; the ending of child labour; votes for women; equality legislation; the creation of green belts and national parks; the Clean Air Act and many others.

When we fight we can win, even if the chances at first seem hopeless.

So, we must not shut up and put up!

People rely on us – and who else can they turn to when the weight of the state feels against them; when negative public narrative is used like a battering ram to break down their defences; when people in power seem not to be on their side?

Henry’s small army beat the bigger one against the odds.

But we’re not a small army. Our charities are supported by millions of citizens. We’re stronger and bigger than we think. We just need courage.

Shakespeare, in Henry V, wrote:

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger…
The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

Maybe for us the line should be: “Cry God for charities, communities and those we serve!”

This article was first published on the Third Sector website.