I am no stranger to ‘social action,’ or volunteering, as I normally call it, and would like to offer here some thoughts with regards to Anastasia Beaumont-Bott’s article on the CF National Executive Blog (executive.cfbranch.com/2008/12/18/social-action-and-conservative-future/). In April 2007 The Independent (26/ 4/ 07, Education, Pg. 8) described volunteering as suddenly being ‘cool,’ because of its new prominence in politics and education. In Britain and the U.S. the voluntary or Third sector has seen enormous growth in the last decade.
The Labour Government has run some successful initiatives (Millennium Volunteers Award, V20 Initiative), thrown some money at it, and set up the Office of the Third Sector in order to assist volunteers and charities. Companies of all sizes now encourage their employers to take part in voluntary work, as do schools, colleges, and Universities all across the country. For example, University College London set up the Voluntary Services Unit in 2005 under Vice Provost (Education) Michael Worton, in coordination with UCL Union, and since then their members have gone no where but up, their staff and budget has increased year on year, and their success has been trumpeted far beyond Gordon Street. Just recently two UCL students and the UCLU Debating Society received Higher Education Volunteering Awards. I notice that Birmingham University Guild has also dedicated some of its resources to voluntary initiatives.
The fact that the Conservative Future Social Action Network (CFSAN: cfsan.blogspot.com/) is an initiative by this very vibrant section of this party is neither here nor there, in my opinion. In no uncertain terms is what I have just said some sort of objection to either the establishment of CFSAN, or even to Anastasia’s article, but I am simply echoing words of mine published on uclunion.org in 2007. (I wish CFSAN every success). In my opinion, voluntary work is not something to be turned into a political football for either party to score brownie points with (which is what I think Anastasia meant with: ‘Social Action is more than just words on a political election leaflet’).
The Conservative Party has been involved in social action for a lot longer and much more extensively than Labour because this party (or older embodiments with similar ideologies, from which it takes its lineage) is much older, and many of its current and former patrons are wealthier, generally speaking. This party has long held true to the values of individual rather than State responsibilities, which fits in nicely with the thinking behind Philanthropy and voluntary work. Hence this parties natural support of such policies under David Cameron MP.
In short I am saying that ideological and political support (backed up by the necessary organisation and finances) is a wonderful thing, and such support is not to be discouraged, but wherever it is coming from and whoever is giving it does not matter nearly as much as what is accomplished. The work, and its results, benefit both yourself and the people (or environment) you set out to assist. I can testify how truly satisfying it can be to chop down a tree, cut through some undergrowth, or see a finished boardwalk (raised path, often over water) after a long day of laboring for an Environmental Charity. The more people who volunteer in our society, the better the supportive infrastructure, the more the UK (and the planet) can gain from charitable work. So lets forget about the political merits and just go out there and get our hands dirty.
By Dominic Tarn.
Image courtesy of The Independent, 26/ 4/ 07, Education, Pg. 8; and UCL Union VSU.